COMPANION VOLUME TO THIS
OLD and NEW
WITH OVER 150 COMPLETE
ALPHABETS, 30 SERIES OF
NUMERALS, AND MANY FAC-
SIMILES OF ANCIENT DATES.
BY THE SAME AUTHOR.
NATURE IN ORNAMENT.
WINDOWS: A BOOK ABOUT STAINED
AND PAINTED GLASS.
ART IN NEEDLEWORKi A BOOK
ORNAMENT AND ITS APPLICATION.
MOOT POINTS : FRIENDLY DIS-
PUTES UPON ART AND INDUSTRY.
In conjunction with Walter Crane.
AN ENQUIRY INTO THE
DECORATIVE USE OF
LETTERING, PAST, PRE-
SENT, AND POSSIBLE
AUTHOR OF ' ALPHABETS OLD AND
NEW,' ' ART IN NEEDLEWORK,' ETC.
WITH NUMEROUS ILLUSTRATIONS, OLD AND NEW-
B. T. BATSFORD, 94 HIGH HOLBORN
NEW YORK :
CHAS. SCRIBNER'S SONS, 153-7 FIFTH AVENUE
5RADBURY, AGNEW, & CO. LD., PRINTERS,
LONDON AND TONBRIDGE.
This is not so much a sequel to " Alphabets
Old and New " as that is preliminary to this.
The earlier volume dealt with the alphabet only,
the forms of letters : the consideration is here
their use in ornament, the way they have been
and are to be employed in decoration.
The illustrations (of which a descriptive list is
given) are chosen strictly with a view to illustrate,
which will account for the introduction of my own
designs : it was not possible always to find the
fitting instance, and an obvious way out of the
dilemma was to make a drawing.
Incidentally, however, the examples of old work
here brought together show how universal was
the use of Lettering in Ornament, how varied,
how ingenious, and at times how beautiful.
Haply they may serve as incentives to fresh
invention ; in any case they are valuable object-
lessons in decorative treatment.
My point of view, it is hardly necessary to say,
is that of the workman — who, if he is a good
workman, is something of an artist too ; ari4
what I have to say is addressed to those engaged
in ornamental design or seriously studying it.
The historic side of the subject is dwelt upon
because of its bearing upon the practical.
The work of other days throws full on what is
possible to-day a light, failing which, the
best of us grope awkwardly in the dusk of
perhaps very limited experience.
LEWIS F. DAY.
13, Mecklenburgh Square,
September 1st, 1902.
NOTE OF ACKNOWLEDGMENT.
I am indebted in many quarters: to Mr. R. Aiming
Bell, Mr. Walter Crane, Mr. Raffles Davidson,
Mr. Harry Soane and Miss B. A. Waldram, for
the use of their designs or drawings ; to Herren
Gerlach and Sc/ienk, the Imprimeries Reunies,
EL err von Larisch, Mr. Harry Soane and Messrs.
H. Virtue & Co., Ltd., for allowing reproductions
from their publications ; to Miss Gimingham, for the
loan of photographs ; to the Rector of Stonyhurst
College, for sanctioning the illustration of Queen
Mary's prayer-book ; to the authorities of the British
and Victoria & Albert Museums, and especially to
Mr. A. B. Skinner and Mr. G. F. Hill, for valuable
assistance in the production of this book.
I. INTRODUCTORY .
II. THE PRINTED PAGE . ■
III. THE WRITTEN PAGE .
IV. MONUMENTAL INSCRIPTIONS .
V. DECORATIVE LETTERING .
VI. INSCRIBED LABELS OR SCROLLS
VII. HIDDEN MEANINGS
VIII. CONJOINED LETTERS
IX. MONOGRAMS .
X. CYPHERS ....
XI. ORNAMENTAL LETTERING .
XII. INITIAL LETTERS .
XIII. ORNAMENTAL INITIALS
XIV. PICTORIAL INITIALS
XV. LETTERING AND ORNAMENT
DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
i. frame of A purse or bag, with the lilies of France and
inscription incised. Found in England. 15th century.
2. RUSSIAN MS.
3. PALI BUDDHIST MS.
4. Icelandic inscription, carved in wood.
5. Arabic inscription, from a stone slab in the Mosque at
6. leaf of a diptych, carved in ivory, with subjects relating
to the Nativity, etc. Rhenish. 10th century. (B. M.)
7. carved drawer fronts, from a Gothic cabinet. The letter
a in the word fata deliberately bisected by the framing.
French. (Cluny Museum.)
8. tracery window, from the refectory of the Hospital of
S. Cross, with quarries bearing the motto of Cardinal
Beaufort, whose arms occupy the centre of the light.
English Perpendicular Gothic. About the middle of the
15th century. (Winston.)
9. bronze medal of the Italian Renaissance. (V. & A. M.)
10. decorative panel — Perseus and the Graeae — in gesso upon
oak, the inscription in raised gilt letters — by Sir E. Burne-
11. part of an embroidered stole. The inscription, worked into
the gold background, so far lost in it as merely to break
the basket-stitch diaper. Roumanian,
xii DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
12. woodcut initials, from a book printed at Bale in the
1 6th century.
13. metal cover of a crystal cup, in the Uffizi at Florence,
pierced and enamelled with the cypher of Henri Deux.
French. 16th century. (H. Havard's " Dictionnaire de
14. glazed encaustic tile, with part of a Latin inscription
from the Book of Job, xix. 21. Found in Sussex. Dated
1456. (B. M.)
15. from a jewellery design, by H. Holbein. (Print-roorn,
16. marks of the printers, Jaques Huguetan and Mathew
Huz, Lyons. 1494, 1493.
17. ROUGH SKETCH FOR A NEWSPAPER HEADING. (L. F. D.)
18. poster, by R. Anning Bell.
19. parchment grant to a Hospital in Burgos, by Alfonso the
Wise, surrounded by inscription, signo del rey don
alfonso, and confirmation of Juan Garcia, in concentric
circles. Spain, 1254. (B. M.)
20. inscription by Joseph Plenick, of Vienna. (Beispiele
Runstlerischer Schrift. Herr von Larisch.)
21. inscription by Otto Hupp, of Munich. (Beispiele Runst-
lerischer Schrift. Herr von Larisch.)
22. diagram, to show letter-spacing.
23. diagram, to show construction of Roman letters.
24. title-page to W. Eden Nesfield's " Specimens of Mediaeval
25. bronze plate, from the grave of Veit Stoss, the
sculptor. Nuremberg. German, 1591. ("Die Bronce-
Epitaphien der Friedhofe zu Nurnberg." Gerlach &>
DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS, xiii
26. back of a pinewood stall, from the Church of S. Valen-
tine, Kiedrich. Carved by Erhart Falkener, of Abensperk.
Flat lettering grounded out, the words separated by inter-
mediate ornament. German, 1510. (" Monumental- Schrif-
ten vergangener Jahrhunderte. " Gerlach &> Schenk,
27. inscribed panel under the pulpit in the Cathedral at Siena.
Marble, the letters in relief. Italian. 1543.
28. inscription panel, from the tomb of Mary of Burgundy, in
the Church of Notre Dame at Bruges. 1495 — 1502.
29. inscription on the tomb of Benozzo Federighi, in the Church
of S. Trinita. Florence, by Luca della Robbia, the letters
incised in marble. 1450.
30. inscribed panel, from the shrine of S. Simeon, at Zara
in Dalmatia. Silver, embossed and gilt. The work of
Francesco di Antonio, of Sesto. 1380.
31. cast-iron grave slab, from the Church of S. Jacobi,
Lubeck. 1599. (" Monumental-Schriften vergangener
Jahrhunderte.'* Gerlach & Schenk, Vienna.)
32. latin inscription, in ribbon-like Gothic character, from a
mural brass at S. Peter's Church, Cologne. 1506. (From
a rubbing by W. H. James Weale in the Library at
V. & A. M.)
33. diagram to show the fitting together of letters so as to avoid
as much as possible open spaces of ground between.
34. slab outside the Church of S. Emmeran, Regensburg, cut
in sandstone. (" Monumental-Schriften vergangener Jahr-
hunderte." Gerlach <~ Schenk, Vienna.)
35. bronze grave plate. (" Die Bronce-Epitaphien der Fried-
hofe zu Nurnberg." Gerlach d>> Schenk, Vienna.)
36. carved pew-end. English. 16th century. From a sketch
by Raffles Davison.
37. part of a belt— Iron inlaid with silver. Byzantine. (B. M.)
xiv DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
38. leaf of A diptych, carved in ivory. 10th century. (B. M.)
39. part of a wooden door at the Cathedral of Le Puy. Flat
carving grounded out. Inscribed on the upright post is
the name of the artist. (Compare with 81.) French.
40. cover of the gospels, with Slavonic inscriptions, repousse,
silver gilt. 1519.
41. enlargement of an engraving on copper, by Hans Sebald
Beham. German. 1542. (B. M.)
42. grave stone, with incised inscription, from the Island of
43. glazed earthenware loving cup, decorated in clay of
different colours. Staffordshire. 17th century. (B. M.)
44. part of a carved wooden door, with Moresque ornament
and inscription in Gothic character by way of border.
Spanish. 15th century. (Musee des Arts Decoratifs,
45. part of an iron door, diapered with the arms of Leon and
Castille. Inscription, by way of border, beaten up. In the
Cathedral at Toledo.
46. SILVER TETRADRACHMS.
A. Reverse, with crab and bow in case, and the inscrip-
tion, KHION MOSXinN. Cos, island off Asia Minor.
3rd century b.c.
B. Obverse, with a Bee (symbol of Artemis) and the letters,
E * = Ephesus. 4th century B.C.
C. Reverse, with vine and the inscription, Em MHTPO-
AOTO. Maronea, a city of Thrace. 5th century b. c.
(All in the B. M.)
47. SILVER TETRADRACHMS.
D. Reverse, with the figure of Zeus and the word
AAEHANAPOT ; coin of the types of Alexander the
Great, probably issued after his death, b.c 316 —
DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS, xv
E. Reverse, with figure of Athene and inscription, BA2I-
AEH2 ANTirONOT. Antigonus, King of Macedon.
F. Reverse, with figure of Zeus, and the inscription
BA2IAETONTOS ArA0OKAEOT2 AIKAIOT, "in the
reign of Agathocles the Just." Bactria. 2nd century
G. Reverse, with figure of Zeus, and the inscription
BASIAEHS BA2IAEHN AP2AKOT2 ETEPrETOT
AIKAIOT Eni*ANOY2 <HAEAAHN02. Parthia. B.C.
H. Reverse, owl in a wreath of olive, with inscription
IIPIAN2I . nrpriA2 . KA. Priansus, a city of Crete.
2nd century B.C.
- bronze medals. Italian. 16th century.
50. bronze medal, with two inscriptions, the one raised, the
other sunk. Italian. 16th century.
51. inscribed label, from a Gothic stained-glass window. The
letters picked, with a pointed stick, out of solid paint.
English. 14th century.
52. panel, from the choir of Albi Cathedral. The name of the
prophet (or as much of it as the artist thought necessary
to identification) incised upon the background, the quota-
tion on a label.
53. part of a reading desk, with the arms of France and Savoy,
letters l, and scrolls inscribed sperandum ac feren-
dum ; carved in ivory and painted. French. 16th century.
(In the possession of Mr. Salting.)
54. gothic tapestry, with figures and inscribed scrolls. French.
15th century. (Cluny Museum.)
55. ) plaques of faience. Inscribed labels used to occupy the
56.I background. Gubbio. 1 6th century.
57. enlarged bookplate. Inscription not following the con-
volutions of the label. Engraved on copper by Hans
Sebald Beham. German. 1543. (B. M.)
xvi DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
58. engraving on copper. The alphabet inscribed on a scroll.
H. S. Beham. (B. M.)
59. part of a square carpet. The ornament consists almost
entirely of inscribed scrolls. German. (V. & A. M.)
60. cypher and inscribed labels, designed for the " Art
Journal Illustrated Catalogue of the Exhibition of 1851,"
by W. Harry Rogers. (H. Virtue & Co.)
61. The words secundum lucam, from a manuscript of the
Gospels. German. 15th century.
62. Two names, charles and maud, intermingled with symbolic
and decorative intent. (L. F. D.)
63. Gothic pew-end, with letter g used decoratively. From a
Church in Somersetshire. 14th century.
64. iron bolt-plates in the form of a letter F. French. Period
of Fran?ois Ier.
65. border of a page from "The Book of Wedding Days."
Branches of the brier rose, appropriate to the month,
spell june. Designed by Walter Crane.
66. engraved panel, in which florid Gothic foliage resolves
itself, upon examination, into the at first unsuspected word
Israel, and (sideways) the letter m. Subsidiary labels
bear mottoes "Da gloriam Deo,'" etc. From a print (in
which, however, the design is reversed), engraved by
Israel van Meckenen. German. 15th century. (B. M.)
67. The letters r . l . l . s . v, coloured, with so little regard to shape
as further to disguise already florid forms. Embroidered,
border-wise, on linen. German Gothic. (V. & A. M.)
68. golden votive crown, found near Toledo. Suspended from
it in the form of a fringe are the letters reccessvinthus,
in cloisonned mosaic of coloured stones. Visigothic
workmanship of the 7th century. (Cluny Museum.)
69. merchant's mark, in relief upon a bronze memorial tablet
at Nuremberg. 1616.
DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS, xvii
70. merchant's mark, c . e . g., from a seal or stamp. (Barclay's
71. mangling apparatus, with decorative inscriptions. Carved
in wood. Icelandic.
72. ornamental lettering, painted on a picture frame by
Victor Vasnetzoff. Russian. (" The Studio.")
73. Slavonic inscription of the 16th century.
74. back of mirror frame, carved in low relief and enriched
with gold and colour. Inscription, o thou satisfier
of wants, Persian. 17th or 18th century. (India
75. The word allah, in letters designed to form an ornamental
device. (L. F. D.)
76. The word prophet, in cursive ornamental letters. (L. F. D.)
77. The word allah, in fret-like letters, after the manner of a
Chinese seal. Compare also with Curie lettering. (L. F. D.)
78. The word prophet, in strap-like letters elaborately inter-
laced. (L. F. D.)
79. stamp of domitian, with raised letters AOMITIANOY. Iron.
Byzantine. (B. M.)
80. bronze pendant, enamelled in black and white. Spanish.
81. details from the doors at Le Puy (comp. 39), showing the
point to which the conjoining of letters was carried in the
82. part of an inscription, with conjoint Gothic lettering,
from a mural brass at Termonde. Flemish. 1575. (From
a rubbing by W. H. James Weale, in the Library at
V. & A. M.)
83. conjoint letters of various periods.
l.o. , b
xviii DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
85. conjoint lettering, forming the central device, in gold
with black (niello) outline, upon some silver dishes found
at Rome. 4th or 5th century of our era. (B. M.)
86. monogram, e. M.S., falling short of being a cypher only
because of its continuous line (comp. 90, 91, 92, 93).
87. sundry monograms — The component letters are written at
the side of each. (L. F. D.)
88. solidus (58 grain weight), with monogram inlaid in white
metal (silver or lead). Roman. (B. M.)
89. THE ALPHABET IN MONOGRAMS OF THREE LETTERS. (L. F. D.)
90. continuous monogram, f. l. Reversible, i.e., reads the
same upside down (comp. 86, 92, 93), by J. Bonella.
91. ) continuous monograms, s . p . l. and g . p . l. (comp. 86, 90,
92. j 93), by W. H. Rogers. (Barclay.)
93. continuous monogram, r . e . d. (comp. 86, 90, 91, 92).
(L. F. D.)
94. ) monograms from jewellery designs by Holbein. (Print-
95. ) room, B. M.)
96. diagram, indicating the variety of letter-shapes available
for the monogram mist.
97. MONOGRAMS AND CYPHER — T. H. E.
99. t MONOGRAMS — T. H. E. (L. F. D.)
101. stencilled monogram, with frame. (L. F. D.)
102. stencilled monogram, with symbolic background. (L. F. D.)
103. stencilled monogram, w . t. (L. F. D.)
104. monogram from a coin of queen Elizabeth.
DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS, xix
105. reversed cypher panel of a carved walnut coffer. French.
1650. (V. & A. M.)
106. monograms and cyphers, painted upon quarries of old glass.
English. (V. & A. M.)
107.) iron key bows, with reversed cyphers. 17th or 18th
108. [ century. (B. M.)
109. reversed cypher, from a wrought-iron fanlight. French.
1 8th century.
no. painted tiles, withreversed cypher, c 1. French. Period
of Henri Deux.
in. bookbinding, tooled with the reversed cypher of Julie
d'Angennes, Duchesse de Montausier. One of severa of
the same design by Le Gascon. French. 1651. (" Les
Femmes Bibliophiles." Quentin-Beanchart.)
112. CARVED AND FRETTED CYPHERS — L.E.W.I.S — D . A . Y.
113. T . G., )
114. p . g., j by J' Fowler - (Barclay.)
115. g r s., by F. Montague. (Soane.)
116. b.e., by W. H. Rogers. (Barclay.)
117. w s., by F. Montague. (Soane.)
118. gothic cyphers, a.m., i.h.s., (from old embroidery)
A.n. (L. F. D.)
119. foliated cypher, i . h . c. (Adapted from H. Rogers.)
120. cypher, a. m. Cutwork. (L. F. D.)
121. cyphers, t. h. e. (L. F. D.)
122. cypher and masonic device. (Harry Soane.)
123. manuscript. Italian. 1439.
124. stamp for printing on linen. — Metal tape driven into a
block of deal, roughly sawn across the grain.
xx DESCRIPTIVE LIST OE ILLUSTRATIONS.
125. initials. Woodcut. German.
126. initial, engraved on copper.
127. portion of a mural brass at Hal in Belgium. From a
rubbing by W. H. J. Weale. (V. & A. M.)
128. portion of a flemish mural tablet in the Church of
S. James Tournay. 1579. From a rubbing by W. H. J.
Weale. (V. & A. M.)
129. bronze memorial tablet. Nuremberg. 1544. (" Die
Bronce-Epitaphien der Friedhofe zu Nurnberg." Gevlach
130. Icelandic matchbox, carved in wood.
131. The words audeo, spero. Plaques of fretted ivory, applied
to a Portuguese cabinet. (Cluny Museum.)
132. The name de-boen, chased in leather. From an Italian
comb case. 15th century. (V. & A. M.)
133. iron lock, with chiselled inscription, o. maria [f] los
j~VIRGINUM A]VE REGINA SELORUM . MATER REGINA
ANGELORUM . AVE MARIA GRACIA [PLENA, DO]mi[n]uS
tecum bene[dicta]. French. 15th century. (V. &
134. stencil plate. The extended limbs of the letters designed
to strengthen it. (L. F. D.)
135. varieties of the letter a, from early printed books.
136. mary — The letters breaking out into scrollery, which forms
a background to them, and holds the design together.
137. f, from a grotesque woodcut alphabet. 1464. (In the
Library at the B M.)
138. a. Woodcarving. French. 16th century. (V. & A. M.)
139. prayer book of Mary Tudor, Queen of England. Crimson
velvet, with silver gilt mounts spelling the word regina.
1 6th century. (Preserved at Stonyhurst College.)
DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS, xxi
140. FRIVOLITY IN LETTERING.
141. woodcut initials Florid Gothic. By Israel van Meckenen.
142. illuminated initial, from a choir book in the Sala Pico-
lomini, adjoining the Cathedral at Siena. 16th century.
143. woodcut initials, by Rob. Stephanus. Paris. 1532.
. -woodcut initials. French.
146. early woodcut initials. Italian.
147. early woodcut initials. German.
148. early woodcut initials. French.
149. early woodcut initials, by G. Tory. French.
-early woodcut initials. Italian.
153. '-early woodcut initials. French.
155. EARLY WOODCUT INITIALS.
156. early woodcut initials, by Lucas Cranach. Bale.
157. EARLY WOODCUT INITIALS.
158. early woodcut initials. German.
159. EARLY WOODCUT INITIALS.
160. woodcut initials, attributed to Holbein. German. 1532.
161. woodcut initials. Holbein.
163. -early woodcut initials. German.
xxii DESCRIPTIVE LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
165. EARLY WOODCUT INITIALS.
166. s., in glazed earthenware. Designed by Godfrey Sykes.
(V. & A. M.)
167. alphabet. Designed by Godfrey Sykes. (V. & A. M.)
16S. woodcut initials, by Matthias Gereon. 1555.
169. early woodcut initial. (Same series as 164.) Bale.
170. woodcarving, by Francois Siebecq, from the bedchamber
of Henri II. in the Louvre.
171. wooden ceiling in the Salle de Diane, Chateau de Fon-
172. paving tiles, from Harpesden Church, Oxon. Early 14th
century. (B. M.)
'*■ J-GOTHic pew-ends, from a church in Somersetshire.
1 74 J
175. earthenware dish, painted in blue and lustre on a white
ground. Spanish. 15th or 16th century. (V. & A. M.)
176. cloth, embroidered with the collar of the Saint Esprit, and
devices from it. (Cluny Museum.)
177. glazed tile, from the ancient Chateau de Beauty.
(Havard's " Dictionnaire de l'Ameublement.")
[From stalls, carved in pinewood, in the Church of S.
' ' -j Valentine, Kiedrich. German. 1510. ("Monumental
^ 9 ' I Schriften." Gevlach &■• Schenk.)
180. monogrammic device, A Hand cross, in couched gold thread,
by Beatrice Waldram.
181. cypher decoration, painted in red and green on a whitish
ground, from the roof of Sail Church, Norfolk.
182. monogram, the background inlaid in flint upon a pier in
Wymondham Church, Norfolk.
DESCRIPTIVE LIST OE ILLUSTRATIONS, xxiii
i S3, part of the lid of a pearwood casket, carved with a diaper
of strapwork, crowned initials, etc., said to have belonged
to Mary Queen of Scots. Scottish. 15th century. (B. M.)
1S4. alphabet in drawn work, from an old sampler. (V. & A. M.)
185. lettering, with ornamental background designed to take
from its obtrusiveness.
186. device with cypher v. r. , by F. Montague. (H. Soane.)
V. & A. M. = Victoria and Albert Museum.
B. M. = British Museum.
L. F. D. = Lewis F. Day.
I. IRON PURSE MOUNT.
Lettering has, over and above its practical use.
and apart from any ornamental treatment of its
forms, a decorative value of its own ; and until
recent times craftsmen of all kinds turned it
habitually to account in their designs. More than
that, lettering is (or was, so long as any care for it
existed) in itself ornamental. A page consistently
set up in good type — of one character throughout,
after the manner of days when there was life in
lettering, and not "displayed" after the distract-
ing fashion of the modern printer — a merely well
planned page is in its degree a thing of beauty.
To that end, of course, the letters must be
well shaped and well spaced ; but, given the
artist equal to the not very tremendous task of
shaping them, or it may be of choosing them only
and putting them together, mere type is in itself
something upon which the eye can rest with
2. RUSSIAN MANUSCRIPT.
satisfaction. To handle a printed book of the
days when the printer cared for his art is a
pleasure second only to that of turning over the
pages of a fine manuscript.
And this is no mere prejudice of the biblio-
maniac, who, indeed, values books for reasons not
intimately connected with the love of beauty.
Decorative artists have in all times felt the charm
of lettering, and owned it in their work ; they
have gone even to the length of inventing mock
writing, when they had nothing to say by it except
how thoroughly they appreciated the use of any-
thing like an inscription in design.
Artists as remote from decorative tendencies
in their own work as the painter of " The
Angelus " have been deeply interested in letter-
ing. It is told of J. F. Millet* that as a
boy he used to write verses of the Bible
on the wooden gates in the fields, choosing his
text to fit the bars. Each letter, he held, had an
intrinsic decorative value of its own ; and its form
meant something to him. He would describe to
his son, in teaching him, how the top of the big G
stooped over as if to drink out of the little goblet
below ; and he had a liking for the combination of
* H. Naegely. "J. F. Millet and Rustic Art."
letters in certain words, even in foreign words
which he did not understand. WEYMOUTH,
for example, struck him as a fine combination of
letters to express a poor thin-sounding word.
Another artist who would have repudiated any
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3. PALI BUDDHIST MANUSCRIPT.
particular leaning towards the ornamental side of
art, and who yet saw decorative value in lettering,
was Robert Louis Stevenson, who, a year before
his death, was bent on decorating the ruddy
wooden walls of his house at Samoa with letter-
ing. His idea was, to have made for him some
4. ICELANDIC INSCRIPTION.
hundreds of gilt letters on the model of " really
exquisitely fine clear type from some Roman
monument " mounted on spikes like drawing-pins.
"You see," he wrote to Mr. St. Gaudens,
" suppose you entertain an honoured guest, when
he goes he leaves his name in gilt letters on your
walls ; an infinity of fun and decoration can be got
out of hospitable and festive mottoes ; and the
doors of every room can be beautified by the
legend of their names. I really think there is
something in the idea." It was with reluctance
he abandoned it. " I had a strong conviction,"
he wrote later, " in that I was a great hand at
writing inscriptions, and meant to exhibit and
test my genius on the walls of my house ; and
now I see I can't. It is generally thus. The
Battle of the Golden Letters will never be
delivered. On making preparation to open the
campaign, the King found himself face to face
with invincible difficulties, in which the rapacity
of a mercenary soldiery and the complaints of an
impoverished treasury played an equal part."
It is no mere fancy, then, of the book-lover or of
the decorator, that lettering is worthy of its place
5. ARABIC INSCRIPTION.
in ornament. Lines of well formed lettering,
whether on the page of a book or on the panel of
a wall, break its surface pleasantly. It has only
to be proportioned and set out with judgment to
decorate the one or the other — modestly it is true,
but the best of decoration is modest ; and it is not
the least of the ornamental qualities belonging to
lettering that it does not clamour for attention, but
will occupy a given space without asserting itself.
It gives at first sight not much more than texture
or variety of surface; yet, when you come to look
closely at it, it tells you what could in no other
way be so clearly conveyed. Symbols may be
misinterpreted, pictures may not convey all that
is meant, the written or the graven word tells
what they cannot : there is no mistaking it.
At the same time, penned, painted, carved, or
anywise adequately rendered, it is in itself
decorative. This seems to apply to the script of
no matter what race ; Egyptian hieroglyphic,
Assyrian cuneiform imprint, Greek or Roman
chiselling, Gothic penmanship, are all alike pleasant
to see, quite apart from the meaning of the words,
which may, as likely as not, be past our understand-
ing. So too the writing of strange peoples every-
where, the Hebrew character, the Slavonic (2),
the Pali of the Buddhists (3), the Runic of the
Icelanders (4), the Cufic and the Neshki of the
Arabs (5), and all manner of to us mystifying
script, conveying to the unlearned absolutely
6. BYZANTINE IVORY CARVING.
7. GOTHIC FURNITURE.
nothing of the meaning of the words, tell us
one and all of the decorative value of mere
There is perhaps no more absolutely satisfactory
simple way of breaking a surface than by means of
well formed, well spaced lettering. In combination
with ornament it has from the first been used by
the decorator, and always with effect. On painted
mummy cases from Egypt, in carved reliefs from
Nineveh, and ivories from Byzantium (6), on
coins from Greece and Syracuse (46, 67), on Persian
tiles and lustred pottery, on Gothic glass (8) and
tapestry, on church embroidery (n) and furni-
ture (7), on leather bindings, in locksmith's and
goldsmith's work (1 and 15) and all manner of
craftsmanship, in the decoration of the manu-
scripts and books of all times (12), and on the
seals and signet rings of all peoples, lettering in
some form, often a very emphatic one, plays a
In modern days we seem to have lost sight of
its artistic possibilities. Only here and there an
artist appears to perceive the opportunities it
offers. William Morris himself did not, except in
his printed books, turn it to appreciable account ;
though once at least Sir E. Burne-Jones in his
panel of Perseus and the Graeat (10) bound his
. STAINED GLASS TRACERY LIGHT.
composition together by a broad overhanging belt
of beautiful lettering across the vacant background
of the panel — very much as the medallist of the
Renaissance before him clouded as it were the sky
of his medallion (g) with inscription.
The use, however, of lettering in ornament does
9. RENAISSANCE BRONZE MEDAL.
not depend upon its association with picture. It is
itself the graphic art. It takes the place of picture,
and conveys in the surest way what might possibly
have been conveyed by carved groups or painted
figure subjects — but not so precisely ; and all this
without calling attention to itself. There are
abundant occasions when decoration ought not
to attract too much notice, apart from those other
IO. PERSEUS AND THE GRAE.E, BY SIR E. BURNE-JONES.
occasions when adequate figure design is out of the
question. It must be remembered (though it may
sometimes suit us to forget it) that the moderate
degree of artistic accomplishment which contents
us in old work will not do for us in the produc-
tions of our own day. We have passed the period
of unsophisticated art when naivete was possible,
and are fast coming to the conclusion (if indeed
we have not already reached it) that, decoration
being in the nature of a luxury, superfluous in
the sense that it is possible to do without it,
only the best is to be tolerated, the best of its
kind. Rather than feeble figure-work let us
have good ornament ; rather than poor scrollery
let us have mere diaper, or some other simplest
form of enrichment.
Here, surely, lettering comes in, an art within
the scope of any decent craftsman — give him but
a model to work from. For, to tell the truth, the
pretty theory that the workman should be left to
his own devices in design, works out in sheer waste
of workmanship. It is not so much that invention
is a rare gift, but that in the matter of taste, almost
as rare, the workman lacks as a rule the culture
which would keep him straight. With regard to
absolute originality, there is not much scope for it
in lettering ; and when a man speaks of designing
it, he means, as a rule, no more than that it is his
Meaning plays by no means an essential part
in ornament — the prime purpose of which is
beauty ; but it may be desirable, in addition
to beauty, and the artist with ideas desires
always to do something more than solve a
decorative problem. Thoughtful artists turn to
symbolism, with the result that they are hampered
II. PART OF AN EMBROIDERED STOLE,
by it in their design, and perhaps led into a form
of expression which conveys their meaning only
to the smallest circle of admirers. The possi-
bilities of symbolism stop suddenly short. The
designer is faced by two alternatives. Either the
symbols at his service are familiar, so familiar as
to be hackneyed and commonplace, or, if they are
of his own imagining, the interpretation of them
Wk i%% Wwi^l
12. INITIALS FROM EARLY PRINTED BOOKS.
makes demands upon our sympathetic recognition
to which only here and there an appreciative soul
responds. It has continually been found necessary
to explain the significance of symbols, and even to
call in for that purpose the aid of lettering, which of
itself would have sufficed without them. It is not
as though symbols were of themselves invariably
ornamental. The sign which best conveys the
meaning of the artist may not, and in practice
often does not, readily conform to the conditions
of design, and its forcible introduction into the
scheme of decoration has consequently always
an air of intrusion.
Lettering, on the other hand, is bv nature most
13. CHAMPLEVE ENAMEL. HENRI DEUX.
amenable to treatment; there are so many varieties
of lettering, so many ways of introducing it ; and,
given the artist accustomed to its manipulation,
it can so readily be made to take its place in such
a way as certainly not to mar the decorative effect,
and most likely to enhance it.
A picture itself, or a piece of sculpture, con-
ceived in the spirit of decoration, may gain no less
in decorative value than in significance by the
introduction into it of lettering in one form or
14. GOTHIC ENCAUSTIC TILE.
another. This lettering may fill, or just suffi-
ciently occupy, a panel or a tablet ; it may be
introduced into the nimbus of a saint or on a
label encompassing him ; it may be as it were
embroidered on the hem of his garment or
written across the folds of it, as was done in
mediaeval times — whilst the Assyrian of old boldly
cut his cuneiform inscriptions right across his pic-
tures in relief; it may be-diaper the ground (n),
or otherwise enter into its decoration (6) ; the
devices of the designer are more than it is here
possible to number. In certain initials from early
printed books (12) lettering at once decorative
and explanatory is introduced into the subsidiary
decoration of the capital letters.
Ornament, apart from picture, may gain still
more from lettering, which takes, in turn, the
place of figured story. It may form itself the
staple of all decorative device, as in many an
instance here given ; it may be cunningly inter-
woven with ornament (13) ; it may be plentifully
employed (14) or sparingly (170) ; it is equally
ready to fill the most conspicuous place or to
retire discreetly into obscurity ; it is the most
obedient servant of the ornamentist.
15. JEWELLERY, BY H. HOLBEIN.
II. THE PRINTED PAGE.
The idea of lettering is so closely bound up with
that of printed type that the book, from title
page to printer's mark, naturally comes into
Due consideration of it from the printer's point
of view would, however, lead us astray from the
present purpose ; it would demand quite a volume
to itself. The very extent of my subject compels
its compression within strict limits. It will be
impossible here to do more than consider the
page, printed or written, as a comparatively com-
pact mass of lettering, the main business of which
is to tell us something, but to tell it with decent
regard for appearances : it would not otherwise
come within our scope at all. The assumption
that the appearance of the page is to be improved
only at the cost of legibility, may have some
grounds in the vagaries of artists wanting in
respect for the art in which they dabble, but it is
not founded upon any inherent incompatibility
between what is beautiful and what can easily be
read. Lettering may very well answer both con-
ditions, and should do so. Is our newspaper type
more legible than a fine Roman inscription ? Any
advantage print may have lies entirely in the
fact that the man in the street is more familiar
with it. Modern improvements (?) in type have
unfortunately been in the one direction of plain
printing, leaving aside the question of beauty, with
the result that the immediate effect of any artistic
improvement in letter-shapes must be a degree
of strangeness which, however slight, will strike
people as less readable — not that it is really so.
Only in so far is it true, that more beautiful
lettering means lettering more difficult to read.
Many a beautiful script which asks of us rather
more attention than modern type, would be at
least as plain to us if it were our ordinary reading.
There is not the slightest doubt that twentieth
century type might well be made more beautiful
than it is. The obstacles in the way of doing it are,
not that such type would be less readable, but that
" practical " people have made up their minds that
it would be, and vast commercial interests are
engaged on the side of letting things be. The
best we can hope for is gradual improvement, and
that such slight changes as occur in the fashions
of print may be for the better. It is well that
artistic attention should be called to it, for some-
thing of all artistic doing trickles through into
trade. The effort of William Morris has not been
without effect. Printers who would most emphati-
cally deny that they are converted to his opinions
have plainly been influenced by his work.
In the case of the written page, as of the graven
slab, the painted tablet, and other hand lettering,
(to all of which much that is here said equally
applies) the artist is untrammelled except by public
prejudice, which, if he deserves the name, he will
to some extent ignore. It is the bounden duty of
the caligrapher to obey the principle of beauty, to
shape his letters as perfectly, and to space them as
pleasantly, as conditions will allow.
The conditions of execution with pen, brush,
graver or other tool will affect in most cases the
shape of the letters. With regard to their distri-
bution and arrangement, the conditions apply
equally to page, panel, tablet, or any solid block
of writing such as the rectangular patch of com-
pact inscription adopted by Greek or Roman
carvers when they did not frame it in mouldings
or design a tablet for its reception.
Let us take the printed page as typical of the
area on which a patch of lettering is to be spread.
Experience proves that the eye is best satisfied
by a tolerably uniform distribution of the letters,
Roman, Gothic, or whatever their character, over
it, so that they give at first sight the impression
of a fairly even surface, distinguished from the
surrounding surface (that is, the margin) more by
a difference of tint than by any appreciable letter-
forms within the mass.
The tint of print is, however, only relatively
even : words are of uneven length ; and there may
be other breaks in its continuity, occurring as the
sense of the words determines., and just not as the
compositor would have them. Nevertheless he is
bound to accept them, not merely to take them
into account, but to make the best of them, un-
happily as they may come for him. He cannot,
without forfeiting all claim to artistic feeling,
shirk the difficulty of so scheming his lines that
they are of equal length, that the words are
broken as little as possible and never awkwardly,
and that the spaces between them do not run into
little rivulets of white wandering irregularly down
the page, to its extreme disfigurement. Broad
spaces of white between the lines of print inter-
cept such ugly streams, at the same time that they
make reading easier ; but the comparatively even
tint given by closely compact lines of type is more
restful to the eye than distinctly marked bars of
print. Here is, for once, a point of divergence
between the most useful and the most beautiful
way of doing it. It applies, however, more to
printed books than to carved, graven or written
In books, where easy reading counts for much
and symmetry for little, it would be absurd to
sacrifice convenience to effect, and to abandon
any division or distribution of the text upon the
page enabling us to grasp the meaning readily.
We want our reading made easy : and there is
not the least doubt that breaks in the type which
correspond to breaks in the sense do make it
easier. The division of the text into words,
sentences, paragraphs, and chapters, is a foregone
conclusion, with which it is futile to quarrel.
The remedy for the undue preponderance of
white, where a paragraph breaks the uniformity of
the printed page, is, not to do away with para-
graphs, but to break up the page into a number
of them. That also makes it livelier and easier
to read ; and if to some extent it takes away from
the importance attaching to a less frequent pause,
the balance of emphasis can be restored by a dis-
tinctive form of letter at the beginning of the
dominant paragraph, denoting a fresh start —
which of itself may be made to add to the interest
and beauty of the page. But the consideration
of the initial letter belongs to another chapter.
An alternative to leaving a blank space at the
end of a sentence, is to mark the pause by a printed
sign, much heavier than the type of course (or it
would not equally arrest the attention) and there-
fore no less objectionable than the plain paper :
the recurrence of relatively solid black ornaments
amidst the grey tint given by the type, is even
more irritating than gaps of white in it. The sign,
of something like equal weight with the text, by
which the Greek scribe, say of the eighth century,
marks a pause in the sense, is proportionately
happier in effect, but does not meet the modern
need for a signal which there can be no mistaking
even from a long way off. In fact, the demand for
something more like " stops " is as old as the tenth
The proportion of the patch of print to the page
of the book, the amount, that is to say, of margin
left round the text, and the position of the patch
upon the page, have very much to do with its
16. printers' marks.
appearance, and are very serious considerations
with the artist. It has been attempted to define
precisely how to place the print upon the page ;
but it is one thing to say this or that system
answers well, and another to insist that only upon
one system are good results to be got. The pro-
portion of print to plain paper is just one of those
points upon which an artist follows his instinct,
and is not to be bound by rule : he works out
rules for himself.
The double column owes its origin presumably
to practical convenience. When the page was
broad, and the type employed was not very large,
the lines of print ran to such a length of words
that it was not easy to carry back the eye and
take up the next line with certainty. The obvious
remedy for this was to have two shorter lines of
print, with a sufficiently broad interval between
them to divide the print into clearly marked
columns. And the effect of this in early printed
books was most satisfactory. In modern printing,
where the space between the columns is reduced to
a minimum (when will some really practical news-
paper printer give us once more columns sufficiently
wide apart ?), the effect is not merely unpleasing
but perplexing, the eye being continually caught by
something in the adjoining column and led astray.
Except, however, in very wide pages, excusable
mainly on the grounds that they may be necessary
to adequate illustration, the double column is no
longer wanted, and is in fact so nearly obsolete that,
where it survives, it has a distinctly old-fashioned
It is, nevertheless, no less effective than it is logical,
to consider the two pages of the open book as one
area on which to plant, as it were, two columns of
print. A very considerable reduction of the inner
margins, as compared with the outer and the
upper and lower, has this effect ; and it is perhaps
the most satisfactory way of composing the page
17- ROUGH SKETCH-DESIGN FOR NEWSPAPER HEADING.
— if only the binder were to be depended upon.
Unless the folding of the sheets is perfect, the two
patches of print do not range, and the closer they
come together the more obtrusive is the fault : it
is not so easily detected when there is a broad
space of white between.
The ornamentation of the page, beyond the
mere setting out of type upon it, is a subject
apart. The only opportunity of the compositor
for anything like free and fanciful composition is
in the title page, where, again, he does wisely in
curbing his fancy. Plain print in the body of the
book seems to demand corresponding severity in
the treatment of the title page, in any case the
most difficult page in the book to set out.
Our type is a carrying on of the character which
came originally from the use of the pen. It will
always probably, perhaps it always should, bear
traces of its origin : we do not want to wipe out
the landmarks of its history. But there seems no
reason why this carrying on should not be also
a carrying further, and in the direction, not of
writing, but of printing, and even of type-founding.
Why should not type bear on its face the evidence
of that also ?
As in the title page of a book, so in a newspaper
heading (17), or the cover of a magazine, there is
possible scope for design, more especially as they
are not ordinarily printed from type, but from a
block. Unfortunately, however, the publisher's
idea of lettering is usually type, to which he
would have the artist conform most strictly. The
demand of trade is, further, for something which
shall advertise itself on the railway bookstalls,
which shall be unmistakably readable as the
flurried passenger hurries past to catch his train,
and at the same time fresh and unexpected. The
dictates of art, on the other hand, suggest some-
thing which shall not shout itself hoarse.
It is difficult under such conditions to do more
than design bold, broad and effective lettering,
and to go as far towards mitigating its obtrusive-
ness as the publisher will permit ; but one cannot
help doubting whether the clever people whose
business it is to gauge the public taste do not
over-estimate its vulgarity.
Advertisement, into which lettering enters,
and must always enter, largely, affords but little
scope for art — it is a game of brag ; but publishers
and others who have an interest in announcing not
I». POSTER BY R, ANNING BELL,
merely what they have to sell, but the beauty and
refinement of the things, might well trust some-
thing to the efficacy of tasteful announcement.
Where, by chance, the responsibility for an ad-
vertisement sheet is in the hands of people not so
much concerned about trade as about art, and
they entrust its design to a competent artist, as in
the case of Mr. Anning Bell's announcement of
the Liverpool School of Art, the result, though by
no means legible at a glance, is something which,
by its very distinction from the common run of
flaring posters, attracts attention and holds it.
For the rest, the only chance of the decorative
artist in the direction of advertisement rests with
the poster-humorist, who has found his oppor-
tunity, and makes good use of it — if not of lettering
To return, however, to the wider subject of the
printed page, all that is here claimed on behalf
of art is, due regard to its appearance. In the
printing of books the ruling consideration is not
beauty, but the sense of the author's words. The
only question open to serious dispute is, how best
to make that clear, and easy reading, with least
violence, if any, to the sense of proportion and
ig. ALFONSO THE WISE, HIS MARK. A.D. I254.
III. THE WRITTEN PAGE.
The written page is naturally set out very much
on the lines of print — itself, of course, originally
modelled upon manuscript. In so far as type
and manuscript seek the same end, they are
subject to the same laws ; but only to that extent ;
and the aim of the two is not identical.
The scribe of old was not so bent upon rapid
writing that he had no time to consider its form,
nor so intent upon ready reading that he dared not
make the slightest demand upon the attention of
the reader. You may see that in Don Alfonso his
mark (19). And to-day also when a page is penned
it is not with a view to conveying the author's mean-
ing in the plainest and most unmistakable way.
The craft of the scribe (as distinguished from
the fluent correspondent) is not so utilitarian as
that of the printer. The writer is free to indulge in
luxuries of art which the printer cannot afford, at
times even to sacrifice something of plain speech
to what might be called rhetoric ; he has, by
right of his pen, a faculty of taking liberties with
the set form and mechanical order of letters,
which the man of print has not, a power which
insensibility only would neglect to exercise.
When, as in the present day, caligraphy is
employed no longer in writing books upon
parchment but in penning the text to accompany
some form of illustration (eventually to be incor-
porated in the printer's process-block), the free
exercise of his power is the very occasion and
excuse of the artist for venturing into penmanship.
He is in a sort compelled to make the venture ; for
the decoration of the page implies the sympathetic
rendering of accompanying text.
The art of lettering is one which the decorative
artist cannot afford to neglect ; not necessarily
ornamental script, but plain, simple lettering —
something which, when he is decorating a book, he
may use in his designs, or with his designs, in place
of type. Type is only too ready to his hand; but
CARlTAS COW CESANC IVLI .
QVARZ FACVL7/tT ENTVORE
PALMETTE BVKOVINA DACO
BERT FVX SCHRIFT PSYCHE
20. INSCRIPTION BY JOSEPH PLECNIK, VIENNA.
when it comes to finding a fount which will go well
with pen or brush drawing, the choice is well nigh
hopeless. Nothing seems to be quite right. If he
wants something which shall not jar with his work,
he must do it himself; and to do it satisfactorily he
must be master of at least one form of lettering.
It is true that many an artist who has felt the
incongruity of type, and therefore penned his own
page, has only escaped from one trouble into another.
" I hope," writes a distinguished author, apropos
of the publication of his own poems, " it isn't
necessary to put the verse into that rustic print-
ing. I am Philistine enough to prefer clean
printer's type : indeed, I can form no idea of the
verses thus transcribed by the incult and totter-
ing hand of the draughtsman, nor gather any
impression beyond one of weariness to the eyes."
Who does not sympathise with this protest against
the bad work of perhaps a good artist ? A man
may be an excellent draughtsman, and yet in the
direction of caligraphy no more expert than a
child. But the choice is not between the bad
writing of the artist and the hard and fast type of
the founder- — of which two evils type may be the
lesser ; there are at least two other alternatives —
that the artist should learn to write, or that he
should get a sympathetic scribe to write for him.
Caligraphy is a term we use in speaking of the
ancient or mediaeval scribe, because he it was who
wrote beautifully. The scribe who cultivates the art
of writing is to-day rare, but the species is happily
not extinct ; and there is, at all events in some
quarters, a rather general desire to master script,
consequent upon the realisation of its use in design.
An artist may have no desire to deviate into
ornament, and yet appreciate the advantages of
penning his own lettering, or seeing it written
under his own eye. It gives him, even if he
accepts the alphabet as it is, in all its severe
simplicity, the opportunity, not only of shaping it
to suit himself, but of placing the letters where and
as he likes ; and, if he should want an even effect,
of spacing them more perfectly than print allows.
He can put letters just as close together or just as
far apart as may seem fit to him, can spread,
contract, persuade them even, by some slightest
modification of the letter-shapes, to accommodate
themselves one to another as ready-cast type can-
not possibly do. He can give to capitals their
relative importance, and emphasise his words in
other ways than by the use of italics. In short,
he can have his own way instead of going the way
2f.(lfl. : RSYr.H6!T/l(lW6KK
21. INSCRIPTION BY OTTO HUPP, MUNICH.
of the machine — only he must have command of
his implement, pen or brush or whatever it be :
his writing must be adequate.
The writer does wrong to form himself, as he
often does, upon printed type (his obvious model is
manuscript, upon which that itself is formed), and
especially wrong to emulate the regularity of print.
He can get with the pen or brush qualities of more
account than mechanical precision (in aiming at
which he is at a disadvantage as compared with the
machine), qualities beyond the scope of printing,
and of a kind which differentiate his work from it.
It may be as well to exemplify the sort of even-
ness of distribution to be obtained in penmanship
and not in printing. The writer has only to pro-
long a stroke to occupy the gap of white which
occurs between two such letters as RT, or EV
Or the gap may be avoided by the choice of a
different type of letter; it will be seen (diagram 22)
how the choice of the straddling M fills up the
space left at the foot of the letter F, and how it
widens the breach after the letter A.
Writers of old never seem to have been bound
hard and fast to one type of letter. Even in the
same phrase various forms of the same letter occur,
as if it happened so, much to the enlivenment of
the page. And such variation shows regard (con-
scious or unconscious) to the way the various shapes
compose. The playful variety of old lettering is
one of the charms we find in it. How pleasant
the surprise of the rectangular C occurring once
only in the word ECCE, as we find it on the
doors at Le Puy (diagram 22). One has less
sympathy nowadays with the turning about of
a letter to make it fit a space. That was all very
well when writers were not particular as to whether
the bar of the N slanted this way or that. We
are no longer at liberty to make a P or S face back-
wards; it is a device belonging to a stage of letter-
ing more elementary than the one we have reached.
The same objection does not apply to the liberty
taken on occasion with the size of individual letters;
but there should be occasion for it. It should be
done with deliberate purpose — for the sake of
compression, composition, emphasis, not out of
mere wilfulness. It is reasonable enough to reduce
the size of a letter in order to bring it into the desired
compass, to make it. for example, occupy the blank
space which always follows the letter L— observe
the compactness of the letters LOD and the want
of it in LOI (diagram 22)— but to reduce an unfor-
tunate vowel always to proportions at which it
looks more like a stop than a letter, does not seem
to justify itself on any ground of taste or expe-
AM A/A ELCE1
diency, except that it enables the writer to shirk
the difficulty of penning a bold round O — a paltry
excuse for pretended artistry.
One is apt to resent mere wilfulness on the part of
the scribe — variations, that is to say, not suggested
by conditions of the case. We accept them readily
when there is reason for them, and all the more
readily when the writer consistently carries through
the idea of compression, or whatever his motive
may be. Old writers often saved space by
enclosing one letter within another, as in the
combinations DI, ON, VS (diagram 22).
Once in a while we are able to express by the
proportions of a letter something not otherwise
easily to be conveyed — as, for example, by reducing
the size of a letter in the word MARY to indicate
a pet name in which the R is familiarly dropped.
A useful rule of writing has been laid down by Herr
v. Larisch, from whose " Beispiele Kunstlerischer
Schrift " two very different instances are given
(20 and 21), to the effect that the letters of a word
should be so contrived that the ground-space
between them is always equal (not the distance
between their extremities) ; but that is possible
only on condition of taking occasional liberties of
the kind already mentioned. The Viennese artist,
it will be seen (20), adopts the old German
device of writing the double T in GOTT as one
letter, and the Bavarian (21) dwarfs a Z when his
composition requires it.
When it comes to the modification of the letter-
shape, in what is ostensibly plain lettering, the
penman is on rather dangerous ground ; but he
may safely lengthen the limbs of letters, or other-
wise extend or compress them, so long as no im-
pression is conveyed of torturing them, or of trifling
with a script which has serious business to do.
The impression of affectation is easily produced
by undue liberties with the proportion of letters.
The bar of the A or of the H is not once and for
all fixed ; it may be shifted a trifle higher or lower
without hurt ; but the fashion, not merely of high-
waisted letters, but of waists gradually rising almost
to their necks, becomes absurd. It is one thing to
depart from orthodoxy, another to go beyond the
bounds of all moderation. It is only in modera-
tion that freedom of hand is here claimed, and
only on this ground : that the proportion of the
'■S. ■ =:*
23. DIAGRAM TO SHOW CONSTRUCTION OF LETTERS.
letter itself is of less moment than the aspect of
the word, the line, the page, in favour of which
the letter must be sacrificed.
The variety which is the charm of handwork
comes naturally to the writer who is ready with
his pen or brush ; and, if for its sake only, it is
incumbent upon the decorator, and especially upon
the ornamentist, to master the art of lettering.
He need not be adept in lettering of all kinds, but
at least he should take some one character, Roman,
Gothic, or whatever may best suit his style of work
(of course, a fine type of letter, not common
newspaper print), and master that, make it his,
get as expert in it as in writing a running hand.
Let him acquire, in short, a hand of his own ;
it need be no more like print than his epistolary
hand is like a writing master's ; it should be in
every sense his own handwriting.
Elaborate diagrams (23) have been devised to
show the geometric plan on which letters are sup-
posed to be built. These are of some use in helping
to explain the exact proportion of their parts ; but
a draughtsman should be able to draw without all
that amount of compass-work. The construction of
the alphabet appears to have been first worked out
in the fifteenth century by an Italian, one Felice
Feliciano ; after him followed Fra Luca Paccioli ;
but the best known diagrams are those of Diirer,
who in his book on proportion (1525) gave twenty-
two pages to them, and yet the types of letter he
adopted are by no means unimpeachable.
The fact is, all this mathematical jugglery is
beside the question of art, and especially of design.
It is not so that letters are designed, nor anything
else. The artist must learn to write — painfully if
he should have no turn that way ; but when it
comes to lettering, he must do it straight off;
that is necessary to spontaneity, without which
it will never be anything but cramped. There are
occasions when exceptional care is necessary, and
N N .' FI6LD SoJftNU2SRY: KO\ 1562 im
24. TITLE PAGE BY W. EDEN NESFIELD.
a high degree of finish and exactness ; but there
is no middle course between direct penmanship
or brushwork and most carefully drawn lettering.
There is not much to be done in the way of touch-
ing-up letters which have been freely put in. It
must be one thing or the other.
Spontaneity, it should be explained, does not
imply rashness in setting out writing, or careless-
ness in penning it. The lines should be straight,
of equal length, and at equal distances. The soul
of the scribe must not be beyond measurement or
calculation. It is not till he has taken the neces-
sary precautions, mechanical and other, that he
can safely go ahead and write freely.
25. BRONZE ON THE GRAVE OF VEIT STOSS.
IV. MONUMENTAL INSCRIPTIONS.
What has been said of manuscript applies in
great part, and often with even more force, to the
kind of inscription designed rather to be a record
for those who care to search for it, than to serve
as an announcement to the world — not so much an
advertisement as a confidence.
The architectural carver, or the monumental
engraver, has no less absolute control of his letter-
shapes than the penman. He is himself controlled
by the serious purpose and position of his work ;
and in proportion to these must be the severity of
his lettering, as well as the stateliness with which
it is ordered.
Nesfield's lettering in the title page of his
" Specimens of Mediaeval Architecture " (24)
is unmistakably very much what he would have
designed for a brass. There is a dignified austerity
about it not usually to be found either in the
printing or the penmanship of his day.
Of such importance may be the dignity of letter
design, that some facility in reading is readily to
be sacrificed to it. It is not imperative that an
26. BACK OF CARVED PINE CH. STALL, I5IO.
inscription should be read as you run ; enough if
it is apparent that there is an inscription which,
if you care to pause and study it, you may read.
Accordingly, the rules which apply to print or
manuscript may in monumental inscription be re-
laxed. It is no longer necessary to keep the lines of
lettering wide apart so as to form horizontal bars of
text ; they may follow closely one upon the other,
and the words themselves may be closed up to form
a compact mass. In place of orthodox punctuation,
and of theordinary division into sentences, the artist
may mark the pauses in his own way. Should it be
by the interpolation of flowers, badges, or other
ornaments, these may now be, and usually will be,
of equal weight with the lettering, it being no longer
so necessary to make reading easy as to present a
dignified inscription. The utmost the reader has a
right to ask of him is that there shall be no possible
mistake about it when he comes to study it.
Architectural dignity is best preserved by the
adoption of the simplest and severest character,
and by distributing the lettering in the evenest and
most formal way. The style of it must depend upon
that of the architecture ; but straight-lined charac-
ters, Roman or Gothic (27, 28), seem always to
take their place in a building more as if they
belonged to it than any florid writing ; and this is
especially the case with carving in stone or engraving
in metal ; anything in the nature of a flourish is
more appropriate to the pen or brush. There is no
possible rule, however ; an artist is guided by his
feeling in such matters, and if he has taste it will
guide him aright. The beautiful panel of lettering,
well deserving its place of honour in the tomb of
Mary of Burgundy, at Bruges (28), shows that it
only needs the competent artist, and he can, with-
out offence, give play to his fancy even in serious
monumental design. It will be seen that he
reserves in this instance the more fantastic flourish-
ing of the letters for the base of the panel, where
their work is over and they may safely be playful.
27- RAISED LETTERS IN MARBLE.
Inscriptions are written by common consent in
horizontal lines. It is not so universally conceded
that the lines should be of equal length, and form
therefore a compact rectangular mass of lettering.
This may not be possible in the case of an ample
inscription within, let us say, a wreath, which was at
one time common enough (29). The lettering must
often in that case perforce follow the lines enclosing
it. But similar or other fanciful distribution of the
words occurs also where there is no such reason
for it, where no framing lines constrain the writer.
In that case he loses something of the dignity and
decorative value of inscription by straying from
the straight line : there is virtue in its verticality.
Even should there be some reason against a simple
four-sided patch of lettering, the lines may with
advantage be grouped so as to give at least a
rectangular figure. An edge meandering in and
out unmeaningly, or following a florid framing
line, is a thing to avoid. And if the frame compels
it, the fault was in designing a frame so ill-adapted
to its purpose. The rectangular space is invariably
satisfactory (30). Given a frame to fill, the
designer of an inscription must do his best ; and a
competent artist will make the best of even a very
bad job ; but, clearly, the better way to set about
lettering in decoration is, to set out the inscription
before designing a tablet or setting of any kind for
it — to design, in fact, the frame for the lettering,
not adapt the lettering to the frame.
To the inexpert a word or two may be accept-
able as to the setting out of an inscription. There
may be many ways of doing it. Mine is one which
works out satisfactorily. It is this: —
28. FROM THE MAUSOLEUM OF MARY OF BURGUNDY,
BRUGES, l6TH CENTURY.
I. Imagine about how you think the inscription
would subdivide — say into so many lines (long or
short according to your scheme of design).
29. INCISED MARBLE, LUCA DELLA ROBBIA.
2. Write one line as it comes.
3. Count the number of letters in the line
(reckoning the space between word and word as
equivalent to one letter).
4. Reckon to how many lines your inscription
30. EMBOSSED IN SILVER-GILT. DALMATIA.
will run, and how this number of lines will suit
5. If it does not accommodate itself, you may
have to begin again ; but each successive guess is
likely to be nearer the mark than the last.
6. Having determined that your inscription
shall be in so many lines, averaging so many
letters, at such or such a distance apart, the next
step is to note (upon the rough copy of the words)
where the lines would end, and how the words
would be broken.
7. You will probably find that, by a little
readjustment, taking a letter or two from one line
and including it in another, you can divide your
inscription into lines containing each a number
31. CAST IRON FROM A GRAVE SLAB.
of letters which, by a little compression in one
case and a little distension in another, will give
lines of equal length, without the necessity of
breaking any word awkwardly. Very awkward
words might possibly involve a reconsideration of
the whole scheme.
8. Having determined finally the words which
shall occupy each line, you sketch in the letters,
lightly of course, because only tentatively. It is
not until you have quite satisfied yourself as to
the spacing of the words, that it is safe to begin
with the pen, brush, or chisel. A false start is fatal.
9. In finally adjusting the letters, some compres-
sion or distension of the words may, it was said, be
necessary ; but it is the line that has to be closed up
or spread out ; there is not much to be done with a
separate word or two, without danger of disfiguring
the text. It must seem as if the lines were of
equal length ; any clear evidence of a word being
squeezed in, or long drawn out, tells against the
writer. The possibilities of contraction within the
compass of a single word are greater when the
artist is free to use conjoint letters (p. 109), or
otherwise take liberties with the form and propor-
tion of individual letters. A rather extreme instance
S. JACOBI, LL'BECK, 1 599.
of making free with the normal letter-shapes is
given above (31).
Apart, of course, from the style of letter deter-
mined by the architecture of a building or monu-
ment, is the character which comes of its execution
in stone (zy), or metal (30), and of its standing
up in relief upon a sunken ground (27), or being cut
into the surface (29). The face of the letters may,
indeed, be carved, and sometimes is, especially in
wood ; it may be modelled, and sometimes is, in
clay ; and there is no precise limit to the relief or
modelling in which the artist may on occasion
indulge ; but it is not often that it is desirable to
interfere with the flat surface of lettering ; there is
a danger of frittering away the valuable surface
of the material; and the forms of most letters
express themselves sufficiently by their outline
alone. Even the so-called ribbon letters (32),
in which the turnover of the ribbon needs to be
expressed, want little more than one sharp cut to
express the fold. To insist upon nearer resemblance
to ribbon is to indulge in a florid form of letter-
ing remarkable, not for architectural dignity,
but for a certain playfulness, pleasing indeed, but
ill-suited to very serious and sober decoration : it
32. RIBBON-LIKE GOTHIC
is not so much lettering in ornament as ornamental
lettering — which is not the subject of this chapter.
There is less occasion, then, in architecture for
actually modelled lettering than for letters cut into
the ground or left in flat relief upon it. Either
expedient is in its place equally perfect. In incised
lettering the surface of the slab is preserved ; but
the simple " grounding out " of the letters, leaving
the metal, stone, or wood intact, to form their face,
is also a sure way of preserving their breadth of
surface. It is quite commonly employed in brass
and bronze, plain strips of metal (measuring perhaps
as much as twice the thickness of the strokes of
the letters) being left between the rows of writing,
broken only by the tops and tails of tall letters
them, and by an occasional
INSCRIPTION FROM A FLEMISH BRASS.
initial (34). This expedient of the band was, in
fact, almost necessary for the accommodation of
the projecting parts of the minuscule letters ;
certainly it has invariably a good effect.
The grounding-out of letters upon brass was
sometimes done with a view to filling- in the space
with black or coloured mastic ; but the sunken
parts, being beyond the reach of the polisher,
soon tarnish in any case, and deepen of themselves
in colour, with the result that the letters tell light
and bright upon it.
So in the case of wood or stone, the surface of
the raised letter is apt to get in time a polish
which the ground does not. A sunken ground
is commonly adopted in black letter inscriptions,
in which the upright strokes come close together ;
and there is seldom any broad surface of ground
between. In the case of Roman letters, or Gothic
letters more or less of the Roman type, there are
apt to be gaps in the ground, which give rise to
the occasion, if not the need, for ornament of
some kind, in order to preserve the evenness of
the inscription. The danger may, however, be
evaded by closing the letters up and minimis-
ing the space between them, especially if the
inscription is in channels with plain raised bands
between. A similar plan of crowding out the
background may be employed with good effect
by the penman or painter. By . merely draw-
ing his letters in outline as close together as
he can and filling in the background, he gets
a character in his lettering (33) quite different
from that which would result from painting light
letters upon a dark band. In the case of black
letter inscriptions, the engraver of the fifteenth
and sixteenth centuries often, as before said, made
incisions in them to suggest the turn-over of a strap
or ribbon, playing indeed slight variations upon
that simple idea with admirable effect ; but he
was happiest when he was content to suggest a
turnover and did not want to imitate it.
34- SANDSTONE SLAB, REGENSBURG.
The flaw in black letter inscription is the incon-
gruity of the capitals used with it. They break the
line perhaps happily, and relieve the monotony of
an exceptionally rigid form of minuscule ; but
they rarely seem to belong to it (35). The
capitals above (34) are much more in keeping
35. BRONZE FROM A GRAVE AT NUREMBERG.
with the other letters than those on this page (35) ;
but really satisfactory capitals to go with black
letter have never been, and are perhaps not to be,
designed. This is a matter of less practical im-
portance to us, seeing that the days of that
particular character are, except for occasional
purposes, already passed.
There is no reason why grounding out should
not more often be employed in stone or marble
when the scale allows it ; it is employed to ad-
mirable effect in the wooden pew-end opposite
(36), and in the inscriptions upon the much
earlier doors of the cathedral at Le Puy (39).
Small lettering is more naturally cut into
stone, as the cuneiform and Greek and Roman
inscriptions invariably were. In the little Byzan-
tine iron shield at the end of the chapter (37) the
incised lettering is filled in with silver. Between
and letters in re-
lief, the choice
partly by the
as to which is
the easier to do,
partly by which
will be the more
secure from in-
jury; when nei-
ther would be
either would be
safe, it becomes
a question mere-
ly of effect. The
ter of lettering
on a sunken
ground, in metal, is witnessed by numberless
mediaeval monumental brasses, in which the
decorative use of lettering is shown trium-
phantly. We have only to compare these with
the tombstones of a later date to see how
monumental lettering may be used to artistic
and to ineffective purpose. Which of the two it
36. OLD ENGLISH PEW-END.
might be, was in the past very much a question of
period: engravers of the seventeenth and eighteenth
and especially the nineteenth centuries fell on evil
days for design : with us it is a question of taste.
We have lost hold of tradition, but we have freer
choice ; and out of our eclecticism, may I call it,
better things should come — if we but take the
pains to inform ourselves. The work of a man
who knows what master workmen before him
have done, must needs be better than anything
he could spin out of his own ignorant imagining.
37- IRON INLAID WITH SILVER. BYZANTINE,
38. IVORY CARVINGOF THE TENTH CENTURY
V. DECORATIVE LETTERING.
Many and various were the methods of intro-
ducing inscription into decorative design. It
found its way even into picture, until the time
when the pictorial ideal ceased to include decora-
tive effect. Long inscriptions claimed for them-
selves, as a rule, a place apart ; shorter ones were
used sometimes to frame the picture, sometimes
to form part of it.
In introducing lettering into decoration, people
accustomed to write in horizontal lines from left
to right naturally adopted that direction. They
might occasionally be led by considerations of
design to scheme an inscription otherwise ; but,
in the main, decorative lettering takes the hori-
zontal direction. Such, in fact, is the decorative
use of some such horizontal band as lettering
gives, that one is inclined to suspect that in-
scriptions have often been introduced into design
quite as much for the line they gave as for the
information it was desired to convey in them.
About the earliest and most uncompromising use
of inscription that we know of is seen in the well-
known bas-reliefs from Nineveh (eighth and ninth
centuries B.C.), in which broad belts of cuneiform
lettering deliberately cross the picture in a way
which, brutal as in a sense it must be called, is
not sheer brutality, so useful is it in the com-
position, and so little hurt is there to broadly
conventional sculpture of that kind in a treatment
which, applied to more delicate workmanship,
would be downright cruel. We find indeed some-
thing of the same kind in quite late Gothic
tapestry and wall-painting, where the names of
the personages represented are sometimes written
straight across their drapery.
The gentler treatment is to write only upon the
background to the figures, where the horizontal
bands or belts of lettering are of use in crossing
narrow upright spaces between the figures or
between the figure and its frame, and in binding
the parts of the composition into one.
Another use to which bands of inscription are
commonly put is to separate tiers of small picture
panels one from the other, as, for example, in the
narrow lights of tall Gothic windows, which they
hold together in a most satisfactory manner. A
u 4 ft . % m m
.CM jug*. A, j
39. PART OF A DOOR OF THE CATHEDRAL AT LE PUY,
very pronounced use of bands of lettering to sepa-
rate little figure subjects is made in the doors of the
cathedral at Le Puy, of which a portion is illus-
trated (39). The lettering there is on a pro-
portionately very large and important scale ; but
it holds its own perfectly both with the ornamental
borders and with the figure subjects. The carving
is of the simplest kind, mere flat "grounding out,"
but the effect is singularly rich ; and certainly not
the least interesting part of the design, when you
examine it in detail, is the lettering. It proves to
be Latin hexameters, explanatory, of course, of the
incidents depicted, running right across the four
divisions of the doors. The upright post between
the two doors (to the right of the illustration),
shows another use of lettering. Clearly, where all
about it was so full of pattern, that called out for
enrichment. Why should not the carver make
use of it to sign his name ? And who is not
grateful to Master Godfrey for the w T ay he has
done it ? He could hardly have devised ornament
more effective or more fitting.
There is no need to multiply instances of
pictures kept apart by interspaces of lettering.
The mediaeval decorator delighted in a multitude
of little figure groups, and he knew no better way
than this of separating them — nor do we for that
matter, though nowadays we are not so fond of
It is no uncommon thing to find in one and the
same mediaeval composition inscriptions treated
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40. SILVER-GILT COVER TO A COPY OF THE GOSPELS WITH
SLAVONIC INSCRIPTIONS, 1519.
in a variety of ways. The designer had the wit
at the same time to diversify his design and to
make his meaning as explicit as might be — after
all, words are the most explicit form in which to
convey it — and he succeeded in making them
subserve an artistic purpose also (40). There
is a Flemish tapestry at the Victoria and Albert
Museum representing the Seven Deadly Sins
(1485 — 1520), in which the names of Jeremiah,
Justice, Pity, etc., are written across their bodies,
whilst the words of the prophet occupy a scroll.
It is a rather important point in design that in
a single composition different forms of inscription
should be adopted only to convey different kinds
of information ; and that, vice versa, different
kinds of information should be conveyed in dif-
ferent ways. What is necessary to intelligibility
may be made so, to contribute to decorative effect.
Of old it did not occur to the writer to intro-
duce all manners of writing into his design ; he
confined himself habitually to one form of letter,
varying perhaps in scale, or in the manner of its
rendering, but in its main lines the same through-
out — for the simple reason, it may be, that no other
was familiar to him. To-day we turn our know-
ledge of many types to the worst possible account
in mixing them together. Our scraps of know-
ledge lead us continually into danger. It is often
desirable, and even necessary, to make . some
words stand forth in a design, and others to
shrink back; it is the business of a designer to give
such words as he may introduce their due and
precise value, to make some perhaps larger than
others, some more solid, to reduce certain of them
to relative insignificance ; but reason and art alike
demand that all should be in one handwriting.
Natural as it is to write from left to right, and
useful as cross bands of lettering are in counter-
acting the upright lines in figure composition, the
41. ENGRAVING ON COPPER BY H. S. BEHAM, 1542.
artist has always felt himself free to depart from
the usual practice when that did not suit his
purpose. If he had no need of any definite line,
he preferred perhaps merely to break the surface
of the background with quite irregular lettering.
He made bold, if need w r ere, to place the letters of
the words in vertical instead of horizontal order, or
to scatter them about the ground more in the form
of a diaper; perhaps he preferred to write them on
a tablet or a scroll (41) designed to receive them,
42. STONE GRAVE SLAB, GOTLAND, 1316.
or to introduce them into the details of the picture
itself. The nimbus of a saint was, for example, so
convenient to his hand, that it seems almost as if
it must have been designed to be inscribed with
his name. The mere writing of the letters in a
ring round his head was enough to indicate a halo.
43. OLD STAFFORDSHIRE EARTHENWARE.
A device employed in tapestries and stained glass
windows was to introduce the name of a personage
in the hem or border of his garment, or as a
pattern in the stuff, as though it had been woven
in it or embroidered on it ; but the limits of that
kind of thing are soon reached.
The horizontal band, so common on flat sur-
faces, becomes, in the case of a vessel circular in
plan, a belt of inscription, very valuable always in
emphasising the roundness of a vase, and some-
times in correcting its proportions. Quite rude
instances of this occur in the mugs and other
common earthen pots decorated in "slip" after a
Staffordshire fashion of the end of the seventeenth
century (43). More refined examples occur in old
Greek vases ; but there the inscriptions are so deli-
cate that, reduced to the scale of our illustrations,
they would hardly be seen. They are, in fact, so
inconspicuous that, but for the fact (pointed out to
me by Mr. Cecil Smith) that they occupy a position
of honour in the scheme of Greek vase painting,
one might take them to be an afterthought of the
The lip, the neck, the shoulder of a vase may
each in turn conveniently be decorated in this way,
the words engraved on silver, painted on pottery,
enamelled on glass. Successive rings of letter-
ing, with or without other ornament between,
make excellent decoration, which, as the
wording is never seen all at once, does not
assert its meaning. The Hispano- Moresque
potters frequently introduced bands of mock
Arabic inscription into their lustred earthenware,
preferring, it is said, not to profane the name
of the Prophet by putting it upon the infidel
market. They also hashed up into ornament the
Roman and Gothic character, not perhaps know-
ing the havoc they were working with its sense.
The practice speaks for the value of lettering in
ornament ; but it does not justify mock inscrip-
44- PART OF A MOORISH DOOR, WITH GOTHIC INSCRIPTION.
tion, for which there is no honest place in decora-
tion. If something like lettering is wanted where
there is a reason why real words should not be
used, it should be within the power of an artist to
design ornament having nearly enough the value
of lettering without ever making any pretence to
Lettering makes a very good border — not merely
in connection with ornament, though there is scope
for that too in very broad borders, but by itself,
as may be seen in many a grave slab (42) and
old brass, where it frames a monumental effigy or
heraldic device as effectively as any pattern would
do. The letters make, in fact, pattern enough,
excellent and appropriate in proportion to its
severity. The formality and rigidity of letters
make for that steadiness which is so desirable
in a border ; the parallel upright strokes of
Gothic black-letter, of which an orientalised
version is given (44), fulfil very much the
same purpose as the rectangular lines of a Greek
fret ; but it is seldom that lettering comes amiss.
The one objection to a border of lettering is, the
difficulty there is likely to be in reading it from one
position. That, however, does not apply to brasses
and tombstones which you can walk round, or to a
thing like a book cover, which you take in your
hand and turn about. Moreover, the difficulty is in
great measure got over, say in the case of a door,
by making the inscription run uninterruptedly
round only three sides of the thing, and on the
45- PART OF AN IRON DOOR IN TOLEDO CATHEDRAL.
fourth (or bottom border) making it read as in the
top one. This is seen in a portion of an iron door
from the cathedral at Toledo (45).
In a circular disc, where the ring of inscription
is precisely analogous to the rectangular frame
to a slab, the lettering naturally follows round,
in case the thing is small enough to be handled.
In case it is not, the difficulty of changing the
direction is not always very happily managed,
GREEK COINS IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
as may be seen in the mark of Alfonso the
Wise (19) ; nevertheless the lettering in it is good.
For coins, seals, medals and so forth, lettering
proves to be the absolutely perfect border.
Enclosed within marginal lines or without them,
incised or in relief, singly or in double row, it
frames the portrait or the coat of arms effectively,
giving weight to the design just where it is wanted.
Not the least serviceable use of it is where it
is made to pass, as it were, behind the image,
forming something between a border and a back-
ground to it. Boldly used it never comes amiss.
It is only the mean lettering of an artist who does
not value it, would rather not use it, and is in fact
half afraid of it, that is uninteresting. The great
medallists who have given it the importance it
deserves have never had cause to repent it.
For all the value of the ring of inscription on a
GREEK COINS IN THE BRITISH MUSEUM.
coin or medal, the scope of the designer does not
end there : that is one way of doing it, but not the
only one. It is the hard and fast rule we have
adopted in modern days ; but the Greeks, who
were our masters in art, and the medallists of the
Renaissance, knew better than to act on any one
mechanical idea. The Greeks, it will be seen
(46, 47), wrote the inscription across the coin,
or in an upright line, or in two such lines,
48. ITALIAN RENAISSANCE MEDAL.
or in one horizontal line (as a base for the
figure), and lines at the two sides of the coin,
and even in four straight lines giving a square
within the circle. Framed in double lines of
inscription (47) the figure is, as it were, set in
a diaper of lettering. Other devices are where
the ground between the symbolic creature and its
encircling wreath is diapered with lettering (47),
where the inscription is confined to a rectangular
49- ITALIAN RENAISSANCE MEDAL.
frame within the circle, and where single letters
are used to balance the composition (46) — and all
this during the finest period of design. Another
beautiful use of single letters is seen in the ivory
carving of a later period (38).
The medallists of the Renaissance, as well as
the Greeks, often wrote inscriptions across the
background to a portrait head (48, 49). A second
ring of incised lettering, within the outer band
in relief (50), is a convenient means of occupying
the field of a medal without either confusing two
separate inscriptions or calling undue attention
to the less important of them.
Some modern medallists make good and charac-
teristic use of lettering, but they employ sometimes
too much of it to keep it bold enough. Its pro-
portion in the design of so small a thing as a
coin or medal is all-important. The temptation
appears to be to make it too small ; but it seems
to have been the constant endeavour of the great
medallists to keep it as large as possible.
50. ITALIAN RENAISSANCE MEDAL.
VI. SCROLLS OR LABELS.
A device from which very happy effects of
decoration have resulted is that of a label, scroll,
or ribbon, to bear an inscription. It is a means
at once of giving dis-
tinction to it and of
introducing into the com-
position lines invariably
Its origin is not far to
seek. A strip of parch-
ment made a convenient
ticket on which to write
a name or description.
Such labels must often
have been attached to
things upon which they
were more or less a dis-
figurement. The artist
naturally preferred to
paint, or carve, or weave, his own label ; and it
seemed to him to give actuality to the thing if
he represented also the buckling and the curling
over of the ends of parchment, an accident sure
to occur to it in the end. When he found that the
GLASS : THE
OUT OF THE
turning over of the ends led to a characteristic
form of ornament, he naturally developed the idea;
and so we get the ornamental label, severe at first,
eventually, as taste became more florid, twisting
about in the most fantastic fashion. It takes,
finally, the fluttering form of ribbon; but the effect
was happier when it was less flimsily conceived, in
the likeness, that is to say, of more robust strapwork.
Labels of the squarer ticket-like shape were often
represented as if attached by pins to the surface of
the thing they adorned. Longer and more strip-
like labels were invariably turned over or curled
up at the ends ; sometimes the ends were first split
and then so treated. The twisting and twirling
of the label itself was an affair partly of the reign-
ing fashion of the day (severe in the thirteenth
century, florid in the fifteenth), partly of the
function of the particular label in question : it
might not allow much scope for fancy, or, on the
other hand, it might almost demand to be turned
The label is seen in its simplest form on the drug
vases of the Italian majolica painters, just a band
of bold inscription between two lines which, upon
examination, turn out to be the edges of a simple
label, the indelible, and, at the same time, orna-
mental, substitute for the common parchment
ticket. The broad horizontal bands, also, which
separate the subjects in a fourteenth or fifteenth
century stained glass window, suggest the parch-
52. CARVING FROM THE CHOIR OF THE CATHEDRAL AT
ment scroll ; and so do the phylacteries in the
hands of prophets and others, though these are
53- PART OF AN IVORY READING DESK.
made also to take a form more deliberately orna-
mental, in order to occupy the background, or
conveniently to cross the body of the figure.
The sculptured figure from the wonderful
church at Albi (52) is one of a series of prophets
holding each his label, which both crosses the
figure and occupies the background. It need
hardly be pointed out how useful the line of the
scroll is in the composition of the panel, and how
well it contrasts with the name of the prophet
horizontally incised in bolder lettering on the flat
background in a line with his head. A commoner
and more conventional form of label is that on
the first page of this chapter (51). Such a label
was planned to occupy the space about the head
of the saint, descending in front of him ; the turn-
over at the end was grasped in his hand. A similar
but more elaborate use of the label occurs in four-
teenth century tapestry, where it is seen curling
about the heads of the personages, making quite a
pattern in the upper part of the picture, or per-
haps (54) all over the background. Labels, together
with initial letters, are cleverly introduced into
design more purely ornamental in an ivory reading
desk of the sixteenth century (53), where they
greatly help to balance the design.
The use of the label as a repeated form in
ornament is not so common ; but it is sometimes
effectively used, as in the tracery of a window,
54. TAPESTRY IN THE HOTEL CLUNY
where it often makes a most appropriate accom-
paniment to some central shield of arms. It is
used also, for the sake of the meandering line
given by its recurring form, in the broad borders
of engraved brasses and applique embroidery.
At times, too, other short contrasting scrolls
55. PLAQUE OF GUBBIO FAIENCE.
cross it at intervals, at an angle calculated to
steady the flow of the foliage.
The label is employed sometimes in coins,
medals, and the like, but without so much reason.
There is rarely need for it or room for it ; the
available space is better given to the lettering
itself. It is happier as the border of corporation
or other important seals, and in medallions of
larger dimensions it forms often a useful feature,
the ends, as they turn about, satisfactorily occupy-
ing the vacant ground. They are made even to fill
it with their flourishing, as in the rather typical
56. PLAQUE OF GUBBIO FAIENCE.
examples of Italian majolica illustrated (55 and 56),
in which the twisting of the label is a little
too obviously designed to fill up. It is, no
doubt, one very valuable use of the twisted
scroll, that it does fill up a space ; but it ought
not to strike one at a glance as devised merely
with that end. In so doing it confesses itself too
plainly a makeshift. There is less danger of betrayal
when it is cunningly contrived to bear just the
words wanted, and just as they should come ;
which is hardly the case in these Gubbio plaques,
in both of which the label is, in fact, better suited
to the inscription of two words than of one. The
fact is, the label asks rather more conscientious
design than we must expect from the Italians of
the Cinque Cento.
It was said above that enclosing shapes should
be designed with a view to the lettering to be
inscribed upon them ; and this applies with
especial force to the label, which should be
schemed to accommodate the words upon it.
In fact, the position of the words needs first
to be planned and the label designed to take
them. Given an existing space, it is the business
of the artist to fit his design to it ; but no practical
designer would of his own accord first twist about
a label and then begin to consider how best he
could arrange the words within its lines. As well
choose a canvas irrespective of the picture to be
painted on it. The lettering is here the picture,
so to speak, and the label but the canvas for it ;
and, however fanciful its convolutions, they should
be so contrived as to accommodate, not merely
so much wording, but such and such words in the
order of their reading.
The question occurs as to the way the lettering
ought to run. Should it conscientiously follow
57- BOOKPLATE BY H. S. BEHAM.
the course of the label ? should it be confined to
one side of the label ? should it be hidden where
the label dives behind an overlap or disappears
behind the figure ? Naturally it should do all
three ; but the ends of art are not so easily achieved.
An inscription strictly following the course of the
label would, if that happened to turn upon itself,
as well it might, be seen lying sometimes on its
back and read from right to left, and so be
difficult to follow ; at times it would be lost to
sight under a fold, and not be readable at all.
Only in the case of words designedly disguised, or
so familiar that from one or two of them we guess
the rest, can the artist safely let lettering stand
upon its head or disappear from view. He is
compelled, therefore, if he wishes to be intelligible,
to treat his label, not as an inscribed band twisted
into ornamental shape, but as a band first twisted
into shape and then inscribed with the desired
words so that they can be seen and read. He
has, in fact, frankly to accept the label as a con-
vention, and not pretend that it is a real scroll.
Realistic representation may at times be possible ;
some may think it desirable ; but in any case it
does not go far towards meeting the conditions of
Accepting the label, however, as a convention,
a game of ornament, it is part of the strict game
to confine the writing to one side of it, and, by
rights, to follow its course. The artist has the
58. ENGRAVED OX COPPER BY H. S. BEHAM.
determining of its direction ; it is his business to
compel it into the way it should go. You may tell
a good workman by the conscientiousness with
which he keeps to the face of the ribbon and
follows the flow of its convolutions. It is easier,
no doubt, to ignore all such considerations, and
write haphazard ; but that is a poor excuse for
not playing fair.
In effect the artist designs his label and on the
visible parts of it he inscribes his words ; what he
does in fact is, to plot and place his words, and
about them to devise a label. They give him
certain short lengths of scroll, which he accepts,
trusting to his invention to find lines which will
supply the necessary continuity. Should he fail
in that, he tries the words in different order. In
the tailpiece to this chapter (60) the artist has
planned the label bearing the words, "All nations,"
better than that inscribed " in-dus-try." An in-
genious designer seldom finds himself compelled
to break up his inscription awkwardly ; he does
not, for example, introduce a fold in the middle of
a word ; rather he reserves the fold to mark a
break in the wording. He is careful to avoid the
impression that his lettering was in any sense an
afterthought. He designs the label for the words ;
and design is, literally, forethought.
It is not pretended that labels have always been
scrupulously designed. Artists even who ought to
have known better have before now shirked the
difficulty of design, in so far discounting the merit
of otherwise masterly work. It will be seen
that the robust designs of Hans Sebald Beham
are not in this respect above reproach ; in the
one case (58) the letters flow evenly on, but are
written upon both sides of the label ; in the other
(57) the words do not follow the direction of
The Germans of the early sixteenth century made
extraordinary use of the label in their design, more
particularly in association with heraldry, and, to a
man almost, designed it, as they did their mantling,
with unfailing vigour and effect. A curious and
perhaps unique instance of the length to which,
already in the fifteenth century, they carried the
device occurs in a carpet in the Victoria and
Albert Museum, a portion of which is illustrated
below (59). The ornament consists almost entirely
of inscription. The main lines of the design are
bands of lettering. They outline the border, they
give the central medallion, and the big circular
59. PART OF A CARPET IN THE V. AND A. MUSEUM.
band, which is the main feature of the plan. The
arches of the niches under which the figures stand
are inscribed, and lettered labels occupy the
background behind them ; the figures in the
spandrils bear parti-coloured labels as conspicuous
as themselves. To such an extent does the artist
rely upon this one device for his ornament, that,
but for variety of colour in the scheme, the effect
would have been mechanical. The labels and the
letters on them are coloured in the most arbitrary
fashion, with a view to colour combination and
not to the division of the words, except in so far
as it was the idea purposely to confuse them and
prevent them from staring out of the carpet.
This is not playing the game according to the
rules laid down ; but at least the artist makes no
pretence of doing so. He makes bold to start a
game of his own, a game in which a label may
change suddenly and incontinently from one
colour to another, and the colour of the letters
too. At all events the inconsistency of the colour
scheme is followed through with a consistency
compelling you to realize that there is here no
evasion of the problem of design but a deliberate
device to disturb the monotony of wording
which would otherwise insist too much upon your
reading it. In just such a spirit the old Hispano-
Moresque potter would break up the invocation
within the border of a plaque thus : AVE.MA.RIA.
GRA.PLE.NA., to give at least variety of form
to words familiar to the point of wearisomeness.
The label is a device to bear lettering ; and here
i fc> '
again the vertical lines of black letter seem, as it
were, made to go with-it ; but, Gothic or Roman,
or whatever the character of the lettering, it
should be upright ; the effect of slanting letters or
italics on it is never happy.
Instances are to be found of labels bearing
no inscription ; and they would make satisfactory
ornament, were it not that, by association of
ideas, they inevitably suggest the want of lettering.
Their use, however, in this way is proof of the
ornamental value of the label.
60. DESIGNED BY HARRY ROGERS.
6l. OLD GERMAN LETTERING. FIFTEENTH CENTURY
VII. HIDDEN MEANINGS.
It has been contended in these pages that,
though the first and usual purpose of lettering is
that it shall be read with ease, there are occasions
when easy reading is of secondary consequence (so
long as it is readable enough), and that the more
important consideration is decorative propriety.
It is further maintained that its very legibility
may under certain circumstances be endangered,
and more than endangered, in the cause of
ornament. Plain reading is by no means the
invariable purpose of lettering in ornament, and
it is a mistake to suppose that it ought always to
be read at sight, or readable at all, except to
those whom it may concern. It may be intro-
duced only for the satisfaction of those who have
the key to its meaning — in which case all that the
outside world has a right to ask is that it shall be
ornamental. On the other hand, a sign or symbol
which is a blot upon the design is indefensible
from the standpoint of art.
62. INTERMINGLED NAMES.
There are times when wording may be intro-
duced into design with the deliberate purpose of
escaping too ready detection, perhaps of mysti-
fying. A truthful man is not bound to blurt out
everything ; there are moments when it is wiser
only to suggest. Art is not advertisement.
Instances innumerable occur in which the mean-
ing of the words an artist may introduce into his
design ought not to be obvious, when it would be
nothing short of an offence if they were too plainly
readable. This is especially the case where a
sentiment is conveyed in them ; we do not shout
our sentiments from the housetop ; and the more
tender the sentiment conveyed in the words, the
more becoming it is that they should be spoken
under the breath.
A certain mystery about the wording of a senti-
ment is of the very essence of its tenderness. If
upon the marriage chest of old the carver inter-
twined the names of bride and bridegroom (62),
if upon a bridesmaid's locket the goldsmith of to-
day enamels the initials of the pair, if the one sees
lit to introduce into his carving the other into
his enamelling a pious wish, a prayer for their
happiness, would he, being a man of delicate
feeling, so shape the letters that who ran might
read ? Would he not in his discretion preferably
reduce them to ornament which, though decipher-
able to those concerned, did not advertise an
intimate thought or feeling to the world ? It often
happens that the right thing, and the only thing
to do, is to express what we have to say so reticently
that, whilst the few for
whom it is written will be
sure to catch the meaning,
the attention of the rest
of the world shall not be
called to it. We do not
by preference play love
tunes on a trumpet.
The name of Allah
figures largely in Moresque
ornament, variously writ-
ten. Precisely what
liberty the artists took
with the Arabic character,
I do not know ; but they
could hardly take too much.
There seems to be a sort
63. OLD SOMERSETSHIRE
of reverence in veiling the
name of the deity, and there is little likelihood of its
being misunderstood. Would any pious Christian
64. IRON BOLT-PLATES. FRANCOIS l^R.
miss the meaning of the words upon the scroll
ingeniously composed to occupy the background to
a picture of the Annunciation ? One reads them
by anticipation, and they may safely therefore be
reduced to a form which in itself would not be
easy to decipher. There is little difficulty in
following even the most intricate of ornamental
lettering when the very position of the words
puts the reader on the track of their meaning.
That, of course, is the justification of inscriptions
such as that at the head of this chapter (61) ;
elsewhere it might be unreadable, occurring where
it does in the Gospels, it explains itself at a glance,
SECUNDUM LUCAM. The use of the words
is little more than a formality ; they might almost
be "taken as read."
The desirability of not clearly stating a meaning,
still less of emphasising it, gives rise to the use of
single letters only hinting at it (63). Even then
the letter need not stand revealed in the naked form
of the familiar alphabet. The florid initials upon
the facade of the chateau at Blois make more satis-
factory ornament than the bald N which figured
upon the walls of public buildings in Paris in the
time of Napoleon the Third : there was about that
an air of advertisement in harmony only with the
cheapest form of Imperialism. The F of Francois I er<
was put to all manner of decorative purposes. The
crowned F in the form of a bolt-plate (64) is just
a little too self-assertive. Better for all purposes
than the simple initial was the cypher, commonly
used by Henri II., or the monogram — to which
a chapter by itself is devoted.
Enough has been said to account for the
meaning of lettering being hidden by the artist.
The ways of hiding it are many. The letters
themselves may be so playfully treated as to be
disguised ; they may be intricately interlaced,
they may branch out into confusing ornament, or
be half hidden in scrollery intertwined with it.
In the case of the cunningly designed initial
page from Mr. Walter Crane's " Book of Wedding
Days" (65), the June roses grow from thorny
stems which spell the name of the month, half lost
in leaves and further hidden by the cupid errant
with his shield. A much simpler growth of
ornamental lines is enough to transform words
into ornament out of which
meaning emerges as you look.
In the masterly design of Israel
van Meckenen (66), the letters
of his name, Israel M, are delibe-
rately designed to look like scroll-
work merely, in which a casual
observer would not suspect there
lurked a meaning. They form, it
will be seen, a fine panel of florid
ornament, satisfactory decoration
apart from the significance of the
lines on which it grows. The con-
fusion, more or less, that may result
from interlacing letters not in them-
selves very fantastic, is seen in the
renderings of the word PROPHET
(76, 78). Where two separate
words are interlaced (62), the
disguise is naturally more complete, each, as
5. A PAGE FROM
it were, entangling the sense of the other. By
merely taking liberties with the letters themselves
(to some extent necessitated in order to adapt them
to fretwork in ivory) the Portuguese artist respon-
sible for the cabinet in the Cluny Museum from
which the words AUDEO-SPERO (131) are taken
has brought them to the desired condition of orna-
ment which does not thrust its meaning on you.
A simple means of preventing words from
staring at you is, to break the continuity of the
letters by colouring them arbitrarily, as was done
in early Saxon manuscripts. The obtrusiveness
of individual letters may be guarded against
in a similar way by breaking them into parti-
colour, so that the forms which strike the eye
are only parts of letters, and do not insist upon
the fact that they have a meaning. The particular
character employed in the old German embroidery
from which the letters overleaf (67) are taken,
seems to us at this date hardly to necessitate
further removal from the obvious ; but the needle-
woman evidently meant to make sure they should
not be too evident ; and she not merely confused
them with ornamental foliation and tendrils, but
rendered them in colours which may be said to
blur any possible distinctness of statement con-
veyed in them. Severer forms of letters might
with even more reason be treated in the same
way and so reduced to ornament. The sculptor or
modeller may arrive at a similar result by varying
66. ENGRAVING BY ISRAEL VAN MECKENEN.
67. GERMAN GOTHIC EMBROIDERY.
the relief and the texture of his letters instead of
The fringe of cloisoned letters dependant from
the seventh century Visigothic crown (68) is a
singularly happy device ; barbaric it may be, but
admirably ornamental. This is a votive crown, it
will be understood, designed to be hung up before
a shrine, not worn on the head. It was dug up in
the neighbourhood of Toledo, and one seems to
trace in it the influence of Saracenic ingenuity in
ornamental device. By no possible chance could
the name of the donor, RECCESSVINTHUS,
intrude itself. It is there by way of record : to
the casual observer it is ornament.
The degree of illegibility permissible in orna-
mental lettering is determined only by the purpose
of it. What is meant to be hidden may well lie hid
from all but those who have the key of the mystery.
Even where the secret is an open one, there may
be a charm in the mystery in which it is wrapped.
If it is a riddle, we have a right to expect it to be
possible of solution. If it is meant to be readable,
it should not puzzle us beyond measure. It is
annoying to suspect, as we cannot help suspect-
ing, that the designer meant us to unriddle many
68. VISIGOTHIC VOTIVE CROWN OF THE 7TH CENTURY.
a seventeenth and eighteenth century cypher,
which after all our pains remains to us a
mystery. The handsome panel from a cabinet in
the Victoria and Albert Museum (105) has all the
6g. merchant's mark.
air of telling us more than
it does. Was that the
intention of the carver,
or was it not ?
A printer's or a mer-
chant's mark (69, 70) is
often built up of lettering
not easy to read; and it
need not be readable; it
is his sign, known to be
such ; and that is enough.
So, too, a stamp, such as
that of Domitian, which
forms the tailpiece to this
chapter (79), might well be
less easy to read than it
is, and yet perfectly fulfil its function.
We have no means of knowing with what degree
of clearness the meaning is
expressed in writing which
we do not understand. All
the unlearned can say of
the Icelandic (71), the Sla-
vonic (72, y$), the Chinese,
the Arab, or other to them
strange character, is that
it is most satisfactory as
ornament ; and the fact
that, as such, it interests 70> MERCHANT ' S MARKi
them, speaks eloquently for c.e.g.
the decorative use made of it. Possibly
it would strike us as less entirely
ornamental if we could read it ; we
find it perhaps all the more ornamental
because it cannot intrude upon our
ignorance ; but there is no doubt
whatever of its being ornamentally
It seems certain, too, that the
Eastern artist was allowed an enviable
liberty of rendering, which enabled
him to reach something like the per-
fection of lettering in ornament. The
short and seemingly simple inscrip-
tion on the Persian mirror back (74)
is not to be read right off. Even an
accomplished Orientalist takes his
time to puzzle out the words,
" O, thou satisfier of wants." The
writing of the Arabs is, of itself,
enough to show that they were not
often in a hurry. In the use of it in
ornament they took it for granted
that the reader would be more than
leisurely. Prohibited by the laws of
the Prophet from picturing God's
creatures, and desiring, after the
manner of mankind, to say something 71. Icelandic
in their design, they indulged pro- mangling im-
fusely in inscription ; and their natural ple ment.
72. RUSSIAN ORNAMENTAL LETTERING
ingenuity and ornamental instinct not being
hampered by any popular prejudice against free
and fanciful treatment of the alphabet, they did
marvels in the way of beautiful design, more ela-
borate it is true than is our Western wont, but
undeniably the work of masters in their art (74).
Lettering forms one of the most striking features
in what we call Arab art. We find it in the lustred
tiles, the enamelled glass, the fretted brass of the
Persians ; in the plaster-work of the Alhambra
and other buildings of the Moors in Spain ; in the
wood-carving of the Tunisians ; in the embroidery
of the Turks ; in Saracenic silk-weaving ; in
illuminated copies of the Koran ; throughout,
in fact, the whole range of Mohammedan design.
The power of the artist is shown in the perfect
73. SLAVONIC INSCRIPTION OF THE l6TH CENTURY,
ease of his treatment: he can play with it; and
yet, for all his playfulness, it never degenerates
into frivolity. He reduced to ornament even
the early monumental chisel -cut character, the
rigid and angular " Cufic," not very much like
lettering to us, except that by its very strangeness
74. BACK OF A CARVED PERSIAN MIRROR FRAME.
we are led to suspect a meaning in it ; but his real
opportunity came with the introduction of the
suaver cursive hand (ca. 1000), whose sweeping
lines suggest, however executed, the stroke of the
original pen ; and he seized upon it. It is in
this Neskhi character that his triumphs in
decorative writing have been achieved.
75- THE WORD " ALLAH " FORMING AN ORNAMENTAL DEVICE.
There is clearly not anything like the same
elasticity in Roman or Gothic lettering as in
Arab, nor have we the mastery of those Eastern
ornamentists over the signs and symbols with
which we have to deal ; but the lesson of their
work ought not to be entirely lost upon us ; and
it would be interesting to see what we could do
in emulation of their manner. The result would
probably not meet with popular approval ; but it
might be well worth the pains ; and in particular
we might learn the way to hide a meaning in our
76. THE WORD " PROPHET " IN ITALICS.
ornament, and to hide it just as effectually as
seemed good to us — to
screen it, if need be,
from all but sympathetic
observation. The few
experiments here given
(75, 76, 78) do not, in
the least, pretend to
show what is to be done
in this way: they are
but a beginning, an
77. THE WORD "ALLAH
AFTER THE MANNER OF
A CHINESE SEAL.
?8. THE WORD "PROPHET" IN INTERLACING STRAP-LIKE
indication, merely, of the direction in which
experiment might be worth making.
Something, too, is to be learnt from the severely
square-cut Chinese character (yj), as well as from
their freer brush-writing (the two styles have
analogies with the Cufic and Neskhi respectively),
and from other script, which, in proportion as
we do not understand a word of it, we can judge
without bias as ornament.
Our Western temperament puts us at some dis-
advantage. We are a matter-of-fact people, and
the practical view we take of lettering hinders us
from making full use of it in ornament. Our
attitude towards the alphabet is somewhat too
respectful. If we could bring ourselves to play
with letters we might easily reduce them to
ornament. The first step is to believe in the
possibilities of lettering: only in that faith is art
79. IRON STAMP. BYZANTINE.
8o. ENAMELLED BRONZE PENDANT.
VIII. CONJOINED LETTERS.
We are to a great extent debarred from the use
of contractions, which, obvious as they must have
been to monkish readers, to whom mediaeval
writing was addressed, are enough to scare a
modern one from the very attempt to decipher
old manuscripts abounding with them. But
there is no such undeniable objection to the
mere conjoining of letters in the old way.
A certain amount even of complication might be
excused, where the writer did not wish to be too
plain, or had a right to expact the reader would
anticipate the word. There are cases without
number in which it is clear from the first word or
two of an inscription what is to follow. It may
safely be taken for granted that the faithful will
not want to read through the Crede, the Ave, or
the Lord's Prayer. There is no need to spell
out every word of a familiar quotation ; and
if there were, there it is, though not as plain as
print. Any hardship the reader might suffer from
the conjunction, here and there, of letters other-
wise awkward to manage, would be as nothing to
the convenience it would be to the designer, who,
as it is, is tied by popular prejudice as never ancient
writer was fettered. But there is not necessarily
any confusion resulting from conjoined letters.
The wording on the doors of Le Puy (81), in
which it is carried to most interesting excess, is,
it is true, only with difficulty to be deciphered —
which may be said also of the Gothic inscription
from a Flemish brass (82) ; but the compound
letters add no little to its variety, and were pre-
sumably not difficult to read at the time they were
written. It is mainly the misplaced satisfaction of
the Philistine with printed type which inclines him
to resent the liberties a writer is naturally tempted
to take with forms the printer has stereotyped.
Time was when even printers were not averse to
combined letters (accustomed as folk were to them
in MS.), but the diphthong and the ampersand alone
survive, and that mainly in the form of &c. This
particular sign was never at the best of much artistic
use — it does not range with the line for one thing —
but why not simply join the letters ? We have only
8l. DETAILS FROM THE WOODEN DOORS OF LE PUY
if mm? W o
82. FROM A
to let the two upright strokes of the N form on
the one side part of the A, and on the other part
of the D (84), and we have a perfect monogram
which, moreover, acknowledges by its contrac-
tion the comparative insignificance of the word.
At all events a writer is free to indulge in any such
monogrammic device which does not interfere with
the legibility at which he aims ; whatever helps the
artist in spacing his letters is to the good. There
is no occasion to keep sacred the separate identity
»S ttXX Cjt>TO
of each particular letter ; and in this particular
instance, at least, there is no mistaking the letters.
Again, if we may use A.D. for Anno Domini, why
not make a monogram of the letters (84), or
join the double N in ANNO (84) ? The com-
pound letter is not difficult to read in that con-
nection. These and similar devices (83, 84)
were all once freely in use.
It is an axiom of design that the method of
workmanship employed should be, not only
83. DIAGRAM OF CONJOINT LETTERS.
confessed, but turned if possible to characteristic
account. What though the monotony of hard and
fast form is inseparable from a page set up in type ?
The penman, painter, carver, engraver, or other
craftsman claims that he, for his part, shall be
allowed to show, by deviation from the fixed forms
of printed type, he has used his brains about his
work ; and his just claim is not invalidated by the
incompetence of this scribe or the affectation of
that. The word engraved within the wreath,
from a piece of old Roman silversmith's work,
opposite (85), was probably meant to tell no more
than it does.
/TD /D A mo
84. DIAGRAM OF CONJOINT LETTERS.
Popular prejudice against any individuality in
the rendering of familiar signs comes of their very
familiarity. The ideal of the unthinking is the
letterpress they know so well. They forget that
type is but a stiff rendering of the written
character, and that it is at best a most degraded
form of print they peruse in the cheap edition
or the daily paper which is their standard of
S5. CONJOINT LETTERS, ROMAN.
86. E M S, CONTINUOUS.
The use of conjoined letters and contractions
leads immediately to the design of the Monogram
— which is in fact neither more nor less than a
contraction — two or more letters writ in one.
A monogram is a compound letter, or, as its
name implies, the combination in one sign (simple
or complex) of two or more letters no longer
separate. Whether the letters form, as in the
beginning they apparently did, the first letters
of a word (XP for XPI2T02), or whether they are
the initials of a man's several names, as is the
more common use nowadays, does not matter,
nor whether they are used as badge, symbol, or
trade-mark ; the point is that it is one sign
conveying the significance of several letters.
In a monogram, rightly so called, there is no
letter which does not form part of another (8j).
This is not generally understood, or we should not
commonly hear the interlacing of any two or
three letters described as a monogram. The
interlacing I.H.S., for example, whether we read
the letters to signify Jesus Hominum Salvator
or IH20Y3, are not properly called the sacred
monogram, nor the intertwining A and fi, nor the
initial letters of XPI3T02, except when one limb
of the X forms the stroke of the P.
The rule that no one letter in a monogram
shall be independent, but that each letter shall
other, makes the
grams no very
to be joined in
as if, in naming
ors had in mind
of designers ;
ren with initials
form part of an-
design of mono-
upon the letters
one. It is not
they have a way
which seem bent upon maintaining entire inde-
Whether they are absolutely irreconcilable re-
mains in each case to be proved. One may have
spent hours in vainly trying to bring them to-
gether, and all at once they come, as it were, of
their own accord. As an instance of the likelihood
of happy combination, I have taken the letters of
the alphabet and tried what could be done with
them, three by three, as they came, at a short
sitting (89). The monograms are by no means
perfect ; two or three of them do not read in the
order of the letters in the alphabet ; but that is
the best I could do right off, and I give the results
as they came. They come well enough, I think,
89. THE ALPHABET IN MONOGRAMS OF THREE LETTERS.
to promise a fair likelihood that letters, take them
as they come, will be amenable to ingenious
If they are by no possible means to be reduced
to a single sign, that may be enough reason for
90. F L, REVERSIBLE.
91. S P L, CONTINUOUS.
interlacing them, or tying them together, or other-
wise bringing them to the condition of ornament ;
but the result, beautiful or otherwise, will not be
a monogram ; and should not be so described.
It causes only confusion to call things by names
to which they are not entitled.
The one case in which there can be a question
as to the title of monogram is, where the letters,
though in a sense independent, are continuous
(86, 93). It is sometimes possible to devise a mono-
gram in which one letter forms part of another and
yet the line is continuous, and the contrivance
adds interest to the design (91, 92, and 100 d) ;
but any device drawn in one stroke might claim
etymologically to be a monogram, even though
one of the component letters could be removed
and leave the others complete.
A reversible design, which you may turn upside
down and it reads the same, is a rare possibility (90).
92. GPL, CONTINUOUS.
93. RED, CONTINUOUS.
Though the letters of which a monogram shall
be formed are prescribed to the artist, he has
usually some choice as to the character of the letter
he will adopt ; and the letters given him determine
often the character he shall choose. He naturally
adopts an alphabet which will give him the par-
ticular letters required in forms amenable to his
Comparatively simple letter-forms, but not too
rigidly fixed, are the most serviceable. Letters
in themselves florid, such as the late German
capitals, are by no means promising ; they are
involved enough already, and quite too fanciful to
be further played with.
Mr. Barclay, from whose book I have, by the
permission of Mr. H. Soane, borrowed some beauti-
ful specimens of design, comes to the conclusion
that the earlier Gothic letters, in which curved
lines abound, alone lend themselves to monogram-
mic use, and that the straight lines of the Roman
94- BY HOLBEIN.
95. BY HOLBEIN.
character render it unfit. It is quite true that
Lombardic capitals, for example, are exceptionally
amenable, all the more so as their shapes are not
so definitely fixed as the Roman, and one may
with less offence take liberty with them ; but,
though there is something final about the form
of Roman lettering, and its lines are straight and
rigid — Holbein himself could not always bend
it to his purpose (94, 95) — it is by no means
always unmanageable, and when it does lend
itself to the combination desired, the resultant
monogram has a sort of dignity all its own.
It is a great convenience to have two or more
forms of a single letter to choose from. The
rounded form may offer possibilities which the
angular does not, and vice versa. It is not,
by the way, always a question of Roman or
Gothic character, as may be seen in the diagram
opposite (96). There is scope for choice within the
range of either Roman or Gothic.
Absolute symmetry is not essential to satis-
factory design, but there must be in it a sense
of balance ; and in pursuit of it the designer is
tempted, not merely to tamper with the shapes
of letters, but to place them out of their order.
It is better that the natural sequence of the letters
should be at once apparent in the monogram ; but
in any case it should not be so flagrantly violated
as to compel one to read them awrong. So also
with regard to the value of the letters, their relative
importance should be maintained. In the letters
96. DIAGRAM INDICATIVE OF VARIETY IN AVAILABLE
of a single name the initial would naturally domi-
nate. In the case of initials it might be desirable
to insist either upon the christian or the surname,
or to pronounce the two equally, or to relegate to
insignificance the second of two christian names
Only for some good reason should the letters
of a monogram differ widely in size. They need
not be all of a size, but there should be no appear-
ance of any difference in scale. This is the more
important where the part of one letter forms in
itself another complete letter. The letter P is
contained, of course, within the B or R, the F
within the E, but in neither case will the one
letter do duty for a monogram of the two — if it is
meant to be read.
Not only should letters read in their order, but
they should read from the same point of view :
A. b. c.
97. MONOGRAMS AND CYPHER OF T H E.
only in the case of a monogram decorating some-
thing as likely to be seen from one point of view
as another, is it excusable to place them at various
angles of inclination.
There is an obvious and soon-reached limit to
the number of letters which can be combined in a
satisfactory monogram. It is only when you know
they are there that you can read in the device
which forms the tailpiece to this chapter the letters
MONOGRAMS OF THE LETTERS THE.
In order to illustrate in a practical way some of
the points above ^discussed, I have taken the letters
of the word THE and made monograms of them
(97, 98, 99, 100). It will be seen that they lend
themselves to a variety of combinations, some of
which read in the order of the word, and others
do not — though these last were really written in
the right order. In most the T is made to take
its due prominence ; occasionally it is a capital
followed by minuscules. Those of them which
read in the order TEH are, in so far, unsatisfac-
tory. In two instances (h 98 and c 100) it is only
by a slightly fanciful treatment of one of the ter-
minations of the E that the letters are completely
made out. The kind of balance observed in k 98
is a thing to aim at in monogram design. Of the
minuscule versions (97) A is readable only if we
accept an H which is out of character ; B is not a
monogram at all; and c reads E T H.
Supposing the letters THE stood for the initials
of a man's name, it would be desirable to give
importance to the E of the surname, and the H
might possibly, as
only the second
christian name, take
quite a back place in
the design. The
point is that the letters should retain as nearly as
possible their actual value.
Another condition which enters into the design
99. MONOGRAMS OF T H E.
IOO. MONOGRAMS OF T H E.
of a monogram is, the space it has to fill, or,
failing that, the shape it will give. A given space
to occupy may put out of the question an other-
wise possible composition. A given arrangement
of letters may compel a circular, upright, squat,
or irregular shape, as the case may be.
A cartouche or other shape enclosing a mono-
gram (86, 101) may help to bring the compo-
sition together ; but is no part of the mono-
gram. A monogram if well designed should stand
alone. To fall back upon the frame .for help is,
in a measure, to confess yourself beaten ; but if
the frame exists to begin with, then you have a
right to rely upon its lines ; in fact it is one of the
conditions to which you have to conform.
Another confession of weakness is to resort, in
the design of a monogram as such (and not as an
ornamental device for some particular decorative
purpose), to ultra-fantastic treatment of the letter
forms; and a yet more abject one is the introduc-
tion of independent ornament. There would be
less occasion for any such makeshifts, were we
not possessed by a demon of symmetry. We
IOI. L F D, WITH
forget that it is not equal-
sidedness but balance that is
essential ; and that there is a
compensating charm in cha-
This is not to say there may
not be good reason for devices
in which for some symbolic or
other sufficient purpose an em-
blem is included. The excuse
is the more sufficient when the symbolism (as
in the case of the rays in 102, which hold the
stencil plate together) fulfils some practical
The component parts of a monogram should be
coherent, consequent, and quite clearly belonging
to the letters they unite to represent ; but the
designer need have no
compunction in departing
widely from the normal
proportion and symmetry
observable in the separate
letters. The consideration
^^ ^5H S w I is now the shapeliness of
^^^^ B^B J tlie monogram, not of the
V,^^^ J^Wr ^M m( iividual letters of which
'$jSr j ^K^^^KM ^ is made up. The letters
|^_,^^MVI may be of the artist's own
102. l f d, with back- designing ; he is bound to
ground device, stencilled, no alphabet; but they
must be all of one handwriting. The incongruous
association of Roman and Gothic letters, florid
and simple, is intolerable in proportion as the
diverse characters are pronounced. And, except
in the unusual case of a monogram designed to be
seen from all sides, the letters should have one
and the same inclination, upright or slanting.
Crossed letters seldom come well.
As to precisely what degree
1 ■■ MM I of liberty the designer may take
^^^ ^m M with the alphabet it would be
'i^k A ^k futile to lay down any law ; to
'"/•"^ B fl some extent he must be governed
^^^^ by the circumstances of each
^r^m ^^ given case ; for the rest he owes
f f^ ^|| obedience only to his own artistic
sense. The common case of the
designer who is more intent on
disguising the lines of his mono-
gram with flourishes than com-
pelling them into the way of
W T, STENCILLED. r ° 111
beauty, is hopeless. Elaborately
ornamental letters raise at once a suspicion as to
the designer's competence. On the other hand,
there is in simple, straightforward lettering a
distinction and character which make amends for
some lack of obvious grace.
It is not enough that the letters should be all
there : it should be possible to decipher them.
Monograms have been ere now designed (104)
in every respect admirable, except that one could
no more be expected to read them than to un-
riddle one of those unimpeachable conundrums
devised with the deliberate intention that it shall
not possibly be guessed. There are occasions
when the object of a monogram is disguise, when
the problem is to invent a symbol which shall tell
nothing to those who have not the key to its
meaning. In the ordinary way the meaning is
meant to be unravelled by whosoever cares to give
it a thought. It should form at first sight a good
pattern ; on further examination it should be
readable, and only difficult to read in proportion
as it is meant to be enigmatical.
IO4. FROM A COIN OF
105- REVERSED CYPHER, FRENCH WOOD-CARVING.
Even if it were within the scope of design to
make any given letters into a monogram, the only
possible one would many a time be ugly. In such
case an artist naturally discards the idea and
falls back upon a cypher : he may indeed in any
case prefer that device as the more appropriate to
his ornamental purpose ; at all events it is never
the forlorn hope which a monogram may be.
A cypher differs from a monogram in that it is
not a contraction, not a separate sign compounded
of several letters, but a commingling or interlacing
of signs, each of which is in itself a perfect and
independent letter, the one as it were planted in
front of the other, or, more commonly, entangled
with it. Letters thus interlocked are commonly
accepted as monograms ; but, though they pass
current, they are not coin of the realm. For the
rest, however, the rules which govern the com-
position of the cypher are very much the same as
those to which the monogram is subject.
Lettering of all kinds lends itself to this device
of cunning interlacing, but none perhaps so readily
as cursive, writing, the flowing forms of which
were so commonly employed by the designers of the
seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to whom the
straight line, ever-recurrent in the upright Roman
letter, was abhorrent. So entirely did they adopt
this one slanting form of letter, that it is some-
times imagined that the term cypher applies only
to letters of the cursive type ; but this is not so.
It is further fallaciously assumed that a cypher
must be absolutely symmetrical. There was once
a generation of artists who apparently determined
QUARRIES WITH MONOGRAM AND CYPHERS.
IC7- KEY-BOW WITH
to have symmetry, at no
matter what price of intri-
cate convolution ; but the
essential is not symmetric
but ornamental form.
Enough that the lines make
good pattern. The striving
after absolute symmetry
resulted in designs, grace-
ful indeed, but all very much
of one pattern, and that
often arather effeminate one.
It was the insatiate desire for symmetry which
led to the practice, at one time almost invariable
in cyphers in which the flowing line prevails, of
reversing the letter ;
though the sloping form
of the writing was in itself
a temptation (given the
ideal of symmetry) to
avoid the difficulty of
design by simply turning
the device over, or turning
over so much of it as was
needful to symmetry.
The result was at times
rather poverty - stricken
(107), at times rich but
obscure beyond elucida- Io8 . K ey-bow with
tion (105). In reality the reversed cypher.
IOg. WROUGHT-IRON CYPHER, REVERSED.
necessity for reversal was never very great, seeing
that designers were not hampered by any thought
of keeping strictly to the letter, but indulged
quite freely in wreathing lines of ornamental
scrollwork only in so far part of the lettering that
they grew out of it. An inventive mind might
readily by means of such extraneous ornament
have made good the balance of design, and so
avoided all occasion for reversing- letters ; but
the real truth is, that letters sloping all one way
do not naturally lend themselves to symmetric
The confusion which comes of overturning
letters is worse confounded by the fact that
one letter reversed mav in combination with the
IIO. PAINTED TILES, WITH CYPHER D I C.
III. BOOKBINDING TOOLED WITH CYPHER DIAPER J L
lines of another letter give a third which is perhaps
not needed. The letter E in the wrought-iron
cypher illustrated (109) might be the accidental
result of inverting the B, or vice versa.
A difficulty with which the designer has to
contend is that (say) of three letters, two perhaps
112. CYPHERS, NOT REVERSED, CARVED.
unite as it were inevitably into a single sign,
whereas the other refuses obstinately to give up
its independence. The result is, properly speaking,
neither a monogram nor a cypher; but something
between the two, and, by reason of its indeter-
minateness, not quite satisfactory, though per-
haps the best possible under the circumstances.
113- CYPHER, TG.
For my own part I prefer, as a
rule, either a monogram or a
cypher to any compromise between
the two ; but it is in every case
the result which justifies the
method or fails to do so. There
is this objection to the hybrid
form of design, that, according as
it is the monogrammic sign or the
separate letter which first catches
your attention, you expect either
a monogram or a cypher, and are
likely therefore to be puzzled by
the combination of the two.
Except where the idea was to confound us, the
fault of confusion is difficult to condone. It can
hardly be said that, where a certain degree of
mystery is sought, it is not
permissible to reverse ; but the
artist who relies upon reversing
lays himself open to the sus-
picion that, if the task of
straightforward design is not
beyond him, he is disposed to
shirk it. Occasionally, how-
ever, a letter is turned over
to such admirable purpose
that one is bound to confess
that the artist adopted this
treatment for the unanswerable IJ 4- cypher, p g,
reason that it is the best that
could possibly be done with
given letters. That is so in
the case, for instance, of the
familiar combination of Q H D
in the monogram of Henri Deux
and Diane, which, frequently
as it occurs in work done for
the king or his mistress, seems
never to come amiss. It has a
sloping italics of later date never
115. CYPHER, G R S.
dignity which the
Il6. CYPHER, B E.
reach ; and
it is difficult to imagine
how it could be bettered.
Again, in the O I C in
painted tile work of the
same period (no) it will
be seen that the beautiful
severity of the letters,
their proportion, and the
simplicity of their compo-
an air of distinction to a cypher
which, less perfectly proportioned, might have been
mean or commonplace. Orna-
mental devices of this kind are
so readily resolvable into their
elements that there is no possi-
bility of the confusion always
likely to occur when intricately
interlacing forms are reversed.
For a similar reason one has 117. cypher, w s.
nothing to say against the reversal of a single
letter, the double C, for example, of Charles VIII.,
and of our own Charles II. If the artist can make
a satisfactory badge or ornamental device out of
a letter, he is within his province : the condition
is that he shall make ornament of it. Even for
more fanciful reversing, the excuse of ornament
holds good. As a cypher of the letters J L, the
device on page 134 (in) is very much like other
interfacings of the period : as an ornamental
diaper, it makes most excellent decoration in
The determination to abstain from turning
letters over results in a form of severity (112) of
which lovers of symmetry do not approve.
Bookbinders made admirable use of the simple
initial as a repeat, with or without a surmounting
crown, in binding books for royal patrons such
as Louis XIII. Before that the crowned F of
Francois ier figured prominently in the details of
his chateaux. As for the H of Henri II., it was
used in such a plain and simple way that one
almost wonders how it is that it does not look
bald. It forms, however, perfectly adequate
decoration, owing to the extremely judicious way
in which it was everywhere introduced.
In the fine ceiling of the Salle de Diane, at
Fontainebleau (171), both the simple H of Henri
and the monogram Q H D are used in a quite
masterly way. One is apt to associate the idea of
Il8. CYPHERS, A M, I H S. A CI.
monograms and cyphers with something small or
finikin ; but the breadth and dignity of decoration
such as that is unsurpassed.
Enough, however, about reversing; let us return
to the cypher. The interlacing of separate letters
does not hinder them from being each of a different
colour (b 97), by aid of which colour (or in the
Iig. CYPHER, I H C.
case of carving it might be texture) letters most
intricately interwoven may be traced and easily
identified. By the same means any one letter
may be emphasised at will. Thanks, therefore,
to colour, or to texture, the artist is enabled safely
to venture upon combinations of letters which,
apart from it, would be inextricably involved. Of
the Gothic minuscule cyphers on page 136 the
one (114) would be difficult, the other (113)
impossible, to read but for such help. An artist,
however, who really enjoys lettering prefers to do
without it if he can.
The occasion for minuscule letters does not very
I20. CUTWORK CYPHER, A M.
often occur in cypher or monogram design ; we
appear to have made up our minds in favour of
capitals — though a foreigner does not seem to see
the objection which we have to beginning his
signature with a small letter. In the case of letters
which spell a name, we might well combine the
initial majuscule with minuscules.
The protest that a cypher is not a monogram,
must not be taken to imply any under-valuation
of the cypher. The designer naturally prefers to
make a monogram — possibly because it is the more
difficult thing to do — but the cypher gives him
opportunities of ornament which that does not ;
and some of the most beautiful and completely satis-
factory letter-combinations are not monograms
but cyphers. The designs of Mr. Montague (115,
117) are admirable, and that of Harry Rogers
on the same page (116) is a triumph of ingenuity.
Think again of the many beautiful interlacings
of the letters A M, I H S, A O (118, 120) in
Christian art. The letters I H C on page 140 (119)
branch out, it will be seen, very freely into foliage
without which the letters would be complete. As
a cypher the design is in so far open to reproach ;
but, as a panel of ornament, to which the meaning
of the letters adds interest, the treatment fully
justifies itself. The severer foliation of the A M
(120) stands still less in need of excuse.
In forming cyphers of the letters THE (121),
which it may be interesting to compare with the
monograms in the last chapter, I have confined
myself to a Gothic character more or less florid,
and have adapted the designs uniformly to a given
space which they are easily made to fill ; but out
of the six which occurred to me at the time of
designing, one at least reads TEH, which in a
monogram of the letters T H E is a distinct fault.
121. CYPHERS OF THE LETTERS T H
The tailpiece below is not so much a cypher as
a symbolic device in which a cypher is included —
that being of course quite a right thing to do,
though it is not precisely cypher design.
It is one thing to design a monogram, it is
another to design it for a specific place or purpose,
or to include it in some scheme of decoration.
Here as elsewhere there are few things the artist,
for all that may be said to the contrary, dare not
do with lettering, provided only he is competent,
and that he cares for lettering. If he loves it, he
may safely be trusted with it.
122. DEVICE INCLUDING
CYPHER AND MASONIC
123- ITALIAN LETTERING, 1439.
XL ORNAMENTAL LETTERING.
The form of an artist's lettering is seldom entirely
under his control. In departing from accepted
shapes he runs the risk of not being read. So long
as he desires to be read, he is free only within the
limits of legibility — a quality it is for his readers to
determine. He must be not only legible, but legible
to them. Learning itself is therefore no safe shelter
against misunderstanding. The adoption of an
obsolete character will be reckoned to a man as at
the best pedantry, just as the invention of quite
new forms will be put down to his conceit or affec-
The wise policy for an artist (not that it is wise
always to act on policy) is to keep safe hold of some
time-honoured and familiar form of letter, and to
deal with it gently, venturing only upon such depar-
tures from it as in artistic conscience he feels bound
to make. This applies to all manner of inscriptions
whose plain business it is to enlighten us, and that
without great tax upon our attention.
Deviation from accepted form, prompted by the
artistic conscience, maybe in one or more of several
directions. The designer is open to suggestions
arising out of his scheme of decoration, out of the
nature of the inscription, out of the position it is
to occupy, out of the material in which and the
implement with which it is to
be written; and, apart from de-
liberate decorative purpose, and
no matter what the general
character of the lettering he
may adopt (that may be deter-
mined for him by architectural
and other considerations) the
in rendering it will affect his
rendering, removing the lettering
somewhat from the original type,
and giving it a character more or less of its own.
We do not want telling whether lettering was
written with a pen, or painted with a brush ;
indented with a point in something soft, or cut
with a chisel out of something hard ; we see at
once that it was cut in wood, or stone, or metal,
and whether it was incised or grounded out. The
inevitable character of its execution is seen even in
work which is meant to be graphic and no more,
and it is seen to be so much to the good as art.
I24. STAMP. THE
LETTER IN METAL
TAPE ON ROUGH
This the artist ornamentally inclined naturally
develops in the direction of ornament ; and so
arrives, almost by accident, certainly without any
very deliberate intention on his part, at something
like ornamental lettering. When it comes to the
design of lettering in which plain reading is not
the first consideration, he is in ornamental duty
bound to develop it to
the full. Over-elabora-
tion is a fault into which
the ornamentist is prone
to fall ; but so long as
he confines himself to the
evolution of that cha-
racter which comes of his
material or of the way
he is working it, he is
on tolerably safe ground.
Out of the conditions i 2 6. copper engraving.
: 4 8
127. PART OF A FLEMISH BRASS
under which he is working and his own personal
bias, unstimulated by any fervid desire to be
original, beautiful and ever fresh variations on the
The influence which the way of working exercises
upon design is very plainly seen on page 146, in
the illustration representing a rude block for print-
ing on linen an initial D, afterwards presumably
to be embroidered. The process of its making is
simple : into a chunk of deal, roughly sawn across
the grain, strips of flat metal tape are driven.
This naturally suggests sweeping lines and forms
that can easily be bent into shape. Hence the
type of letter, and hence the character of the
added decoration. The workman, like his public
— the thing was made for French peasant use,
and sold by a peasant in the market-place —
would very possibly have liked to make the
sprig of foliage more natural ; but the wire would
have it so. More, perhaps, from reasons of
economy than from any promptings of taste or
preference for severity, he followed its prompt-
pour esfre cefefore p<
xxii e Gurnets 5>ejuft<
esfre bisinduzs mi fy
cotments en gains
128. PART OF A FLEMISH SLAB
ings, and, almost in spite of himself, gave it
The rudeness of the work enables us in this
instance the better to see how design is influenced
by the conditions under which work is done.
But similar influences may be seen at work in the
letters engraved upon Greek coins, which look
sometimes (47) almost as if the die-sinker had set
about elaborating the Greek character, so curiously
are the letters rounded at the points. Very little
consideration shows us, however, that he had no
such fantastic idea. It simply happened in that
way. There was always a danger, in cutting short
sharp lines with no matter what implement, of
overshooting the mark. A safeguard was, first to
drill holes at the points where the lines met or
ended, and then engrave the lines from hole to
r cfmn an emuron te
)tk 6e 0fe6 frometrt
CUT IN STONE OR SLATE.
hole. That is what he did — with the result that
the drill marks, not being effaced, assert them-
selves sufficiently to give a quite peculiar character
to the writing. In the case of the coins of course
the strokes end in little pearls. A precisely similar
device is adopted in a Greek inscription on a bronze
tablet in the museum at Naples, where the engraver
has evidently begun by boring holes at the points
where the lines of his letters are to end, omitting,
however, to do so where, as in the case of the bar
of an A, the grooved lines already cut were all the
help he wanted — thus clearly showing the practical
purpose of the little cells at the ends of the longer
Penmanship is writ large upon the initials of
the Gothic scribes and in many of the engraved
initials founded upon penwork (125). The
T29- BRONZE GRAVE TABLET. NUREMBERG.
flourishes of the late German capitals inevitably
suggest the writing master. Letters of the same
type engraved on copper (126) have a perceptibly
different flavour. Again, the flourishes into which
the Gothic letters painted on majolica and His-
pano-Moresque pottery go off, are traces no
longer of the pen but of the brush. You may set out
to do with the brush what was first done with the
pen ; but you end in doing it rather differently.
One feels also that the letters in the sign of
Don Alfonso (19) owe something of their cha-
racter to the fact that they are penned in out-
line and the background filled in solid ; and that
those in the Flemish and German brasses (127, 129)
are influenced by the fact that they are grounded
I30. ICELANDIC MATCHBOX.
131. FRETTED IVORY PLAQUES. PORTUGUESE.
out. Letters of about the same period cut in
stone (128) have quite a different look. So also
the white letter upon a black ground, with its
background of thin foliage, etc., in certain wood-
cut initials (151, etc.) is plainly not altogether
unaffected by the fact that the white parts repre-
sent the cutting away of the wood. In like manner
the square-cut characters on the Icelandic match-
box (130) remind one of the knife with which
they were cut; and one can see, in the rendering
of Lombardic capitals in Gothic glass painting
(51), that they were scratched with a point out
of a layer of pigment on the glass. The letters
AUDEO, SPERO (131) have a certain Portu-
guese look, but the character of fretwork is much
more emphatically marked in them than that of
nationality; and the cyphers which form so frequent
a feature upon old key-bows (107, 108) are, as
it were, translated into pierced and engraved metal.
The name on the Italian comb-case (132) tells, not
only that it belonged to a de Boen, but that it was
chased on leather.
132. CUT LEATHER. ITALIAN.
In event of an artist not duly observing the
character proper to material, it has a way of
retaliating. The inscription, for example, on the
beautiful French lock opposite (133), is too
much of a tour-de-force in piercing; the letters
are over frail for chiselled iron, with the result
that the inscription is in a lamentably ruinous
condition. The iron has here its obvious revenge
upon the designer.
Character, then, and it may be ornamental
character, comes of allowing material and the way
it is worked to have a hand in shaping it ; and
the ornamentist is not merely safe in following the
lead thus given to his invention, but foolhardy
in not following it. Further, his own personality,
presuming him to have one, will find expression
in his rendering of no matter what alphabet by no
matter what method— it will be just as much his
handwriting as though he had written it with a
fountain pen upon a sheet of cream-laid note.
Furthermore, the exigencies of composition will
133- GOTHIC IRON LOCK-PLATE.
suggest innumerable modifications of the letters
as they appear in the copy-book, and an artist were
no artist if he did not venture upon them. It would
be absurd for a designer not to prolong the tail of a
letter if he wanted it to fill a space, or otherwise
to assert the rights of art, as explained above in
reference to handwriting. In the word STEN-
CILLING (134), the heads of C and G and the
tails of E and L are lengthened with a view, not
only to artistic effect, but to the strengthening of
the stencil plate.
It is when artistic devices make clearly for
w r orkmanlikeness, and workmanlike expedients for
artistic effect, that the design of lettering (as of all
ornament) proves thoroughly satisfactory.
There is, however, scope for ornamental letter-
ing beyond this. The designer is, in strict justice,
at liberty in many cases deliberately to make his
letter-shapes ornamental ; though the right is in
these days of matter-of-fact so grudgingly allowed
to the artist that it might almost as well be denied
him. The wider tolerance in this respect in days
before type-printing led to the devising of delightful
There are two ways of designing ornamental
lettering. The one is to compel the letters into
the shape of ornament. This was the idea of the
Byzantine and other primitive illuminators. But
as early as the sixth or seventh centuries writers
began to be diverted from the path of ornament
pure and simple by the unnatural — or is it only too
natural ? — delight in torturing the forms of birds,
beasts, fishes and imaginary monsters into some-
thing which might do duty for lettering. The
134- STENCIL PLATE.
most beautiful of the interlacing initials in Irish
and Anglo-Saxon manuscripts of the eighth, ninth
and tenth centuries are not those which break out
incontinently into heads and legs, in the wild
endeavour to persuade one that this ingenious
strapwork is something more than ornament.
Such effort ends at times in being something less.
Still, the men were bent upon making the beasts
or monsters of their imagination into letters.
The creatures formed the letter and were not
added to it.
So it was with early Gothic lettering, and, in
fact, with all writing until the days of letterpress.
Not till then did letter forms become fixed. Work-
ing with his own hand, the man was free, not
merely to follow his temperament, but to give way
to his mood, so that in the work of even the
steadiest-going writer there was a chance always
of freshness and a possibility of something new.
And the scribe, being in the habit of dealing freely
with letter forms, found less difficulty in playing
ornamental pranks with them, in making, if need
were, letters which were unmistakably ornamental,
ornament which was unmistakably lettering.
With the advent of printing, and the inevitably
fixed type of the founder, a blight of uniformity
spread from the printer to the scribe : the ideal of
freedom declined ; but, so long as the Gothic spirit
lingered, designers would still at times sport with
the shape of a letter. What a variety of shapes a
single letter takes (135) in even printed initials of
the days when printing was yet young !
In the case of handwriting the artist was con-
trolled only by his own taste, which, until the
time when late German penmanship went off into
an hysteria of incoherent flourishes, seldom failed
him : there is, we may say, no standard type of
Lombardic lettering ; but, with all its variety of
proportion and shape, it seldom goes far astray
from fitness or beauty. This applies to the main
outline of the letter. Lombardic and Gothic
capitals generally allowed of very considerable
variation in the parts of the letter, in the thicken-
ing of the curved lines, in the curving of the
relatively straight — all of which made for orna-
ment. The next step in that direction was to
play with the lines of contour, to fret the
outline as it were, and slightly to foliate it, but
at first only so slightly as barely to interfere
with it. At junctures, too, where two lines met
(135), a loop was often substituted for the point
and this loop developed at times into a very effec-
tive ornamental feature. It had been, it will be
remembered, from the time of the Keltic scribes,
a practice to elaborate the letter by interlacing,
VARIETIES OF THE LETTER A FROM EARLY
and some of the most charming letters of the six-
teenth century depend upon interlacing for their
ornament (144, 145).
The slight foliation of the terminations of the
letters develops finally into free, and it may be
florid, growth, which, according to its degree and
136. LETTERS GROWING INTO ORNAMENT.
kind, may be considered either as part of the
letter, or as ornament associated with it (62, 136);
it is often difficult to say which.
The other way of designing ornamental letters
might be regarded as a carrying further of the
idea of foliation ; but it carries it so far that it
enters a new province. It amounts in the end to
clothing the letter with ornament, or compelling
ornament, more or less, into the shape of a letter.
Even the human figure has been tortured in this
way (137) ; but it has never yet been made into
satisfactory lettering, though artists of ability have
tried their hands at it.
A singularly beautiful specimen of florid foliated
lettering is the name-plate of Israel van Meckenen
(66), to which more detailed reference is made on
In the initials by Cranach (156) the scrollery
compelled into letter-form begins to be inco-
herent ; one feels the want of a simple outline ;
and yet more so in those of Matthias Gereon
(168). The simpler A of the Francois ier period
(133) makes more sober ornament, but has also
too much the effect of having been put together.
The ebullition of ornament out of the slender
lines of the italics in illustration 105 is rather
sudden, but it is directed by a sense of grace. In
the letters of the
on the Prayer-
book of Mary
Tudor (139), the
ornament is in
part very ob-
viously added to
the letter ; it is
as if the gold-
smith had first
made his letters
and then belted
has generally the
an excrescence ;
here it is judi-
ciously employed, and results, for once, in adequate
The abuse of ornamental lettering is patent to
every one. Marvels of ugliness have been per-
petrated in its name. So little is lettering esteemed
among us nowadays that it is usually left to the
incompetent hands of draughtsmen, who look upon
I37. GROTESQUE WOODCUT. I464.
ornament as a convenient means of disguising
faults of penmanship or draughtsmanship.
As to the use of ornamental lettering, there is
I38. FRENCH WOOD CARVING. FRANCOIS I 1
plenty of room for divergence of opinion; but,
admitting that in serious inscription ornament
may be for the most part out of place, it has its
place in lettering, and a very useful one. The
artist's calling is not of such a grave and lofty
39- PRAYER BOOK OF QUEEN MARY.
nature that he may never descend from the
heights of academic design and indulge in the
frivolity of ornament — if so it be considered. The
potter plays with his brush, the needlewoman with
her thread; to the worker work becomes play; and
his playfulness touches, if only because it is a sure
sign of enjoyment in the work, a sympathetic chord
in us, and wins our approbation.
I40. FRIVOLITY IN
XII. INITIAL LETTERS.
To many the idea of Lettering in Ornament
will suggest at once the thought of Initial Letters,
for the most part, though not necessarily, dis-
tinguished by ornament — their essential peculiarity
being that they do distinguish themselves, in
whatever way, from the surrounding text.
It is in books, manuscript or printed, that
initials are most useful. There is less occasion for
them in mural and decorative inscriptions, where
even distinctive capitals are not always necessary.
In fact, with the one exception of black-letter,
inscriptions are happiest all in capitals. The
minuscule was not adopted for architectural or
monumental purposes until a period when design
was fast losing its dignity : it belongs to parch-
ment and paper ; and with it are associated the
capital and the initial.
The ostensible purpose of an initial letter, it is
a truism to say, is to mark a beginning, the point
at which the reader is to begin, or to begin anew.
The term " versal " is only another name for what
is practically the same thing, the letter, namely,
to which the officiating priest shall turn. The
decoration of this letter is by way of signal or
The initial heads the chapter as the capital
heads the sentence. It is writ large and beautiful
by way of emphasis, more or less ; and by strict
rights the letter should be glorified in proportion
to the importance of its position. Logically, as
well as artistically speaking, there is no reason
why several series of initials should not be used,
with varying emphasis, upon a single page ; but
it would not seem to the printer worth his while,
and it would sorely tax the judgment of the
An initial, however, is not emphatic according
merely to its size. In common speech a word is
more effectually emphasised by a pause before its
utterance than by shouting it. And the notion
of pause explains and justifies a certain disregard
of immediate legibility in the initial. There, if
anywhere, the artist may give loose to his fancy.
Ornament which elsewhere might be distracting is
here attractive, literally of use, that is to say, in
calling attention to the letter (141). A pause
before the reader begins or resumes his parable is
not without dramatic effect, and a letter must be
indeed entangled with ornament if during that
respite it has not plainly distinguished itself.
There are occasions, again, where it may be
taken for granted that the reader expects a
certain letter, in which case there is no need to
141. INITIALS BY ISRAEL VAN MECKENEN. 1489.
make it easy to read. On the other hand, where
easy reading is essential, as for example in an
advertisement, an initial not over-involved in
ornament may, by its detachment from the text,
confuse the reader — as in the case of a placard in
which the word ELECTION caught the eye; it
turned out to refer to a 5 election of popular songs,
but the initial S was so far removed from the word
to which it belonged that the eye was satisfied
without it. Where (as in this instance) the letters
following the initial make of themselves a word, it
is all the more necessary to bring them close up to
it, that no such error may be possible.
The illuminator has it all his own way with
regard to initials (142). He is a sort of free
lance in the field of caligraphy, not bound to keep
closely within the ranks which a draughtsman
subject to the conditions of printing must observe.
Not in the matter of colour only, but of form also,
• he has a scope denied to the wood engraver. It
lies within his discretion to enrich initials with
ornament, to glorify them with gold and colour,
to encroach at pleasure upon the written text,
which he can accommodate to his wildest lines.
But his discretion is not seldom at fault. His
very freedom is a temptation, to which, at the
bidding of his pen (always ready to run away with
his judgment), he has from first to last been apt to
yield, giving us, perhaps, beautiful initials which
are far from resulting in a beautiful page — to the
I42. FROM AN ILLUMINATED CHOIR BOOK AT SIENA.
making of which there goes a dignity inseparable
from reticence and self-control.
The air of wild gesticulation so characteristic of
a certain class of illuminated initials is enough
of itself to convict them of extravagance. They
presume, too, on the mere grounds that they are
put in by hand, to sprawl over the page as though
it were theirs. It is all of a piece with the incli-
nation of the illuminator to look upon the margin
of a book as a fair field for his exploits. It is not
to be wondered at if, in the scarcity of parchment
and paper, the mediaeval artist seized upon the
margins of the books which came within his
grasp. His excuse will serve us, however, no
longer. Let us have initials, by all means, and
borders too, for that matter, but let them be
planned to fall within the margin, which is the
fitting and the necessary frame alike for type and
manuscript. Encroachment upon the margin is
less pardonable than ever in print, where it has
the appearance of being an afterthought — which
it is not.
I43. WOODCUT INITIALS.
XIII. ORNAMENTAL INITIALS.
An initial is distinguished from the text by its
size always, often by its colour. Even where in
mediaeval books the letter itself is not in all the
colours of the illuminator's palette, it is commonly
in vermilion or ultramarine, or set in a filigree of
ornament in one or other of those colours.
It was from the first a foregone conclusion that
initials should be ornamental. In the beginning
the ornament was in the letter itself, not merely
associated with it in the form of accompaniment
or background (143). The scribe designed it
more or less anew, took liberties with it, modified
its shape in the direction of ornament, made
pattern of it, played with it (144, 145), and was
not content merely to play about it, as became
eventually the custom of draughtsmen more
interested in picture than in design.
Printers' initials hardly ever depended for deco-
rative interest upon the letter only, however
ornamentally rendered. It was not enough for
them that the shape of it was ornamental,
there must needs be ornament or foliage also,
interlacing with it, or forming, it might be, a rich
background to the letter (144, 145). Eventually,
with the Renaissance, when letter shapes became
more definitely fixed, ornament was confined
entirely to the background (146).
Colour is, of course, the exception in printed
books. But even in black and white one gets
I44. WOODCUT INITIALS. FRENCH.
as nearly as possible its equivalent by means of
ornament which, according to its density, tells
lighter than a solid black letter or darker than a
letter merely in outline, and gives a patch of com-
paratively solid print, calculated to call more
peremptory attention to it than a naked letter
of the same proportions would do.
This froth of ornament about a letter may
be regarded as a sort of danger signal, no
more to be mistaken than the foam about a rock
not otherwise clearly distinguishable, A haze
I45. WOODCUT INITIALS. FRENCH.
of ornament, on the other hand, in which the
letter is lost to view, is in itself a danger.
Still, in the case of a letter big and heavy
enough to hold its own, a tint of ornament is
useful, in softening its lines and mitigating what
might, but for it, have been a harsh and brutal
contrast between its blackness and the white
It has the further use of doing away with the
blank unprinted area about it which otherwise
would tell as a gap in the type ; and may readily
be designed to give (and naturally is designed to
give) a compact right-lined device ranging con-
veniently with the lines of the text. Except where
the letter itself takes square lines (which it cannot
I46. WOODCUT INITIALS. ITALIAN.
147* WOODCUT INITIALS. GERMAN.
always be made to do), something of the kind seems
to be almost necessary. We get by means of such
ornamental framing to the initial a rectangular
patch of print which there is no overlooking ; and
within this, attention once called to it, the form
of the letter is promptly perceived. Moreover,
such uniform patches break the page more
pleasantly than initials of varying contour would
be likely to do.
Upon this customary tune, of a letter involved
in ornament, or set in a framework or against a
background of ornament, very interesting varia-
tions were played throughout the sixteenth
century. At times such ornament was made to
follow closely the lines of the letter (150), at
times to contrast with them (146, 147), at
times apparently to take little or no account of
them (164) ; but apparently only ; for the very
test of an artist's capacity for such design is that
I48. WOODCUT INITIALS.
he takes the letter shape into due consideration,
and accommodates the design of his ornament to
it. His idea may be only to fill up the interstices
with pattern, or to compose contrasting lines, or
to correct perhaps the inevitable lines of the letter
itself; but, whatever his idea, he must make that
the starting point of his design. The devices of
the ornamentist in the way of pattern subsidiary
to initial lettering are more in number than it
would be possible to enumerate. It must suffice
to mention a few of them.
The end in viewis, usually, by means of ornament,
to get a broken background, against which the
letter is sufficiently relieved, dark on a lighter tint,
or light upon a darker ; and it is possible, of
course, by the strength or delicacy of the pattern,
to give almost any tint to the ground, by its
monotony or variety to give almost any degree
of evenness or unevenness of tint. It is a wide
149- WOODCUT INITIALS BY G. TORY.
range from solid black ornament to pattern in
outline only, from mere diaper to vigorous
arabesque or foliage, to say nothing of eventual
A heavy letter against a lighter background of
ornament was naturally the first to occur to the
artist (147). But he did not stop there. Letters
in outline relieve themselves quite enough against
a more solid scrollwork, as may be seen in a French
alphabet of which two letters are here repro-
duced (148), where the niello-like enrichment gives
importance to otherwise modest initials, even if
if it does not make them easier to read than they
would be without it. This is a case, by the
way (others occur in 147, 149), in which the
rectangular shape is clearly enough marked without
aid of enclosing outline.
The feat of making black letters clear themselves
i 7 7
150. WOODCUT INITIALS. ITALIAN.
against a black ground is not so simple ; but it is
satisfactorily accomplished in sundry Greek initials
printed at Venice (150). The letter-shapes are
simply emphasised by a double outline of white,
and the ground patterned with well-fitting orna-
ment, which not merely reduces it to the value of
a tint, but, by the way its detail follows the shape
of the interstices, helps to define the form of the
letter. In the case of black letters upon a ground
in theory black, but so closely covered with white
ornament as to give merely a grey tint, there was
no difficulty at all in giving force to the black
151. WOODCUT INITIALS. ITALIAN.
i 7 8
An alternative to this,
which suggested itself
almost from the first
to engravers, was to let
the initial stand out
white upon the ground of
black (151), which might
or might not be reduced,
by means of white
pattern on it, to a tint
(152). This filigree of
white ornament (143,
152, 153) served also (like the fine white dots with
which the black between was often speckled) the
very practical purpose of disguising any lack of
solidity in the printed patch of black, very likely
to occur in printing with hand-presses — vaunt
them as we may. Moreover, the simplest thing
152. WOODCUT. FRENCH.
for the engraver to do,
ornament in his wood
block (154), and he did
it, to very decorative
purpose. Such work
affords perhaps the first
instance of white-line
engraving, the inven-
tion of which is attri-
buted to Bewick. He,
no doubt, cultivated it
further, but the orna-
r as to cut fine lines of
154- WOODCUT INITIALS. FRENCH.
mentists were before him in the field, and had
done good work before he entered it.
The one uniformly unsatisfactory way of relieving
a letter against its background is to shade it, whether
by merely thickening the outline on one side of it,
or by throwing half of it in shadow, as though it
stood up upon the page. Theoretically the shading
makes the letter " stand out " ; but it does not
make it more easily readable ; it simply vulgarises
it. It looks as if in the initials D. I. (155) the
rather clumsy outline, black against a background
of lines giving a half tint, were meant to suggest
If it is desirable to reduce the volume of white
in an initial too assertive on its dark ground, a
simple expedient is to introduce into it a central
line of black, as frequently was done (154).
This may suggest perhaps the idea of incising, but
!55- WOODCUT INITIALS.
does not pretend to give the effect of incision. It
is odd that many an old engraver should have
hesitated between two such opposite opinions,
and, in the same series of letters, have rather
vulgarised some (153) by shading them and
treated others (152) quite tastefully.
I56. WOODCUT INITIALS ATTRIBUTED TO LUCAS CRAXACH,
XIV. PICTORIAL INITIALS.
The initials of the sixteenth century printers, as
will be seen by the illustrations to this as well
as to the preceding chapter, are not so much
designed by the artist as decorated by him. It
is not the letters which he has invented, but the
ornament round about them. That may not,
strictly speaking, be following the traditions of
the days before ; but men have a right to initiate,
if they like, a practice of their own ; and these
men, it must be allowed, founded a tradition
according to which most excellent work was
The practice of designing not the initial letter
but its decoration, certainly meets the condition,
nowadays more insisted upon than ever, of
legibility. When little or no liberty is taken with
accepted letter-forms, there is the less danger (if
any) of their becoming unreadable. But artists
have presumed upon this, seeing no reason, where
it was only the background of the letter which was
to be designed, why they should not do with it
precisely as they pleased, and introduce into it
animals, figures, landscapes or whatever it came
into a man's head to draw (157, 158, 159). And,
157. WOODCUT INITIALS.
indeed, it is hard to set a limit to the fancy of the
artist. Only, when he goes so far as to lose sight
of the fact that it is a background he is designing,
he is plainly at fault.
The best men never quite did this, or they
would not have been the best. A great designer,
such as Holbein for example, designed his figures
to compose with the letter ; but he would have
been freer without having to consider any such
arbitrary shape. Who would not rather have that
artist's " Dance of Death " (161) without any
such encumbrance as the initials to which the
WOODCUT INITIALS WITH ANIMALS.
pictures are adapted. The grim episodes in
miniature are not the best possible background to
the letters, and the letters certainly do not help
the pictures. It would have been in every way
better to print them as illustrations in the place
of initials, with perhaps a modest capital following
— a device not yet, so far as I know, followed by
the printer. In the case of a Holbein, one accepts
the graphic illustration, mixed up as it is with
lettering, as something better worth having than
merely appropriate ornamental design. The point
is, that it is not ornamental. In the hands of
lesser artists it is less and less excusable according
to their personal insignificance.
The later and more pictorial the work, the
more surely the letter becomes a blot upon the
I5g. WOODCUT INITIALS.
picture, seen through it always at a disadvantage ;
but the blame is the artist's, who did not take
heed of what he had to do — did not really design,
but only drew. His figures appear to be trying
to get out of the way of the letter, or the letter
looks as if it had been planted in front of them.
For the purely pictorial initial there is no excuse.
A picture may be more beautiful or more expres-
sive than any mere letter, and it may answer just
1 60. WOODCUT INITIALS ATTRIBUTED TO HOLBEIN. 1532.
as well to mark a beginning. In that case, let
us by all means introduce pictures in the place
of initials ; it is hard to see the force of dis-
figuring them by clapping letters in front of
The relationship between picture and design
has long been what politicians would call strained ;
and, as picture emancipates itself from tradition,
the stress becomes always greater. It is easy to
imagine lettering that might accompany a picture
by, let us say, Mantegna, none which would not
clash with one by Sir Joshua, not to mention
more recent luminaries in whose light his fame
161. holbein's " dance of death.
grows dim. Happily, the modern picture is
independent of lettering; it has been left to the
advertiser (who is not easily put to shame) to print
across it, or on the foreground, or on the sky behind,
his name and the description of the wares he has
to sell. Why not ? it may be asked, if Sir E.
Burne-Jones and the old Assyrians are justified.
The answer is simple : it all depends upon the
scheme and treatment of the picture. The letter-
ing, which is an integral part of the composition,
adorns a picture ; that which is not, is a blemish
upon it. The picture must be such that without
the lettering it would be incomplete.
The designers even of the sixteenth century
often hesitate between the graphic and the
l62. " DANCE OF DEATH INITIALS. GERMAN.
decorative motive, and especially between the use
of arabesque ornament and of figures. They are
most completely happy with ornament, but they
are happy also with " putti," as the Italians called
them, not children precisely, but robust little
would-be baby forms playing about, and always
playfully presented. Perhaps it is because they
are so entirely the children of the artist's brain
163. WOODCUT INITIALS. GERMAN.
that he is so fond of them. Some of the best of
these boy figures are attributed to Holbein (160).
They measure only about two inches across, but
it would be difficult to find, except perhaps in
Greek coins of the finest period, larger treatment
of design in little.
Another fine alphabet (163) is ascribed to
Diirer, on what authority I know not, perhaps
because the letters are evidently the work of a
strong man not endowed with any very subtle
164. WOODCUT INITIALS, WITH MEDALLION HEADS.
appreciation of beauty. It is in the spirit of the
Italian Renaissance that Godfrey Sykes designed
an alphabet (167) not precisely of initials : the
letters are meant to spell inscriptions for the
decoration of the refreshment room at the Victoria
and Albert Museum, and were executed in glazed
majolica — white figures on a yellow ground : the
modelling of the figures can be better appreciated
in the larger version of the letter S (166). The
artist was one who, following in the steps of
Alfred Stevens, went back for inspiration to a
source it is the fashion with us to neglect just
now — by which neglect our modern design is
greatly the sufferer.
In the initials of the elder Cranach (156) one
165. WOODCUT INITIALS, WITH ARCHITECTURAL
may trace the influence of the goldsmith. They
might almost have been designed to be beaten in
gold. The excess of ornament — the outline of
the letter is well-nigh lost in arabesque — may be
taken as indication of the lingering spirit of
Gothic art, by this time ultra-florid. It is only
at the beginning of the period that the artists of the
the simple Roman form
in this way.
The admirable paint-
ing alike of ornament
and figure in certain illu-
minated initials does not
make them byanymeans
types of what initials
should be. The choir
books in the Piccolomini
Library at Siena are
justly famous for the
rare beauty of their illu-
mination. The pictures
are perfect miniatures ;
strously big initials (142) quite out of scale with
the picture, they are miniatures misplaced. The
art of design is in putting things in their places,
and giving them their right value.
The somewhat impractical idea of framing
pictures within enclosing letters has never yet
been satisfactorily carried out ; but it appears to
l66. MAJOLICA LETTER BY
but, framed in mon-
167. ALPHABET BV GODFREY SYKES,
have haunted the designers of initials. Most
persistent attempts at picture-frame initials were
made in 1555 by Mathias Gereon, who designed
letters and pictures to be framed by them, which,
as may be seen opposite (168), were interchange-
able, the same letter D serving as border to two
separate pictures. The limits of these little picture
blocks, to be inserted in larger blocks, are plainly
pronounced by the square lines the pictures take.
The expedient of designing letters which will
frame any subject, and subjects which will fit
any letter, promises economy, no doubt ; but it
does not fulfil all the conditions of composition :
the letter has sometimes to be sacrificed to the
picture. In the case of Gereon's S, for instance, a
most important section of the initial is eliminated
to make room for it. In the series of which
examples are here given the printer, indeed,
appears to have felt that his initials did not speak
for themselves, and has introduced accordingly a
little explanatory letter that there might be no
mistake about it (168). A more practical, but at
the same time quite commonplace, device is that
of American printers, who use sometimes, by way
of cheap initial, a border or frame of ornament
within which movable capitals in large type can
conveniently be adjusted; but this has not even
the merit of novelty; Plantin was guilty of it
The excessive elaboration of the forms of letters
l68. WOODCUT INITIALS BY MATTHIAS GEREON. 1555-
indulged in by the men infected with late Gothic
mannerisms, would more than account for artists
of severer temper imbued with the spirit of the
early Renaissance determining not to tamper with
the Roman character, but to emphasise an initial
of the accepted and perfected shape merely by
ornament round about it. That is not to say
theirs is the best or the only way. The letter must
arrest attention : it has no other cause or excuse.
The easiest way of doing that is to dress it in
ornament, as we distinguish an officer by gold
lace on his coat, or, if he is very important, by
cocks' feathers in his hat. But a man accustomed
to command distinguishes himself by his bearing,
without regimental finery, and so a finely-designed
letter with no trimmings dignifies the head of the
column. Alas, that this so seldom happens now!
There is, it need hardly be said, no comparison
between the difficulty of inventing a form which
shall be at once accepted for the familiar sign and
have at the same time a character of its own, of
designing, in fact, a new letter, and of devising
more or less fitting ornament about an old one.
I70. WOOD-CARVING FROM THE BEDCHAMBER OF
HENRI II. AT THE LOUVRE.
XV. LETTERING AND ORNAMENT.
It is only natural to assume that lettering,
conveying as it necessarily must a meaning, is
introduced into ornament only on that account.
The ornamentist, who has experience of its use in
many an emergency of design, knows better. It
has happened to him so often to find that lettering
just met a want in design (lettering which but for
reasons of composition it would never have
occurred to him to introduce), that he does not
for a moment doubt that, difficult as it may be for
others to believe it, an appreciable amount of the
lettering in ornament is aaMressed in the first
place to the artistic sense, and only in the second
to the understanding.
It goes almost without saying, that lettering
introduced for reasons of art must satisfy the
mind, just as lettering introduced for purposes of
explanation must at the same time flatter the eye.
It is the business of the artist, having assured
himself that lettering is what he wants in his
design, to find a good excuse for it ; and, with a
little wit, he may alight on words so absolutely
to the point, that it never occurs to those who
have not penetrated the mysteries of the workshop
to doubt that they were part of his original scheme,
if not its starting-point. My own opinion, based
upon personal practice, is, that many a time the
modest lettering which takes a subsidiary but not
unimportant place in design was, I will not say
an afterthought, but a happy thought, which
occurred to the artist in the course of developing
his idea ; and that it was suggested quite as much
by the feeling that it was wanted there for effect
as by the thought that its meaning would give
interest to the design.
And this applies not merely to ornamental
lettering. The very unlikeness of plain letters to
the usual forms of ornament makes them exception-
ally useful in design, as a foil and contrast to it.
Without obtruding themselves, they give point to
pattern. It is a common experience in design to
feel the need of intervals in one's ornament, places
171. CEILING OF THE SALLE DE DIANE AT FONTAIXEBLEAU
of rest for the eye, too important to be treated as
background, and in a sense prominent, but not
calling for much enrichment. The cartouche,
which plays such a prominent part in wood-carving
of the period of Henri II., is an outcome of that
need, affording as it does a broad surface of wood,
not on the same plane with the ground, but itself
another ground, and one by its position demanding
decoration, and even decoration which, though it
must not attract, shall not be insignificant. The
design, in fact, leads up to such points in a way
which would logically almost imply a figure com-
position or some such enrichment ; but artistically
that would be too rich ; what is wanted is some-
thing simple, which will not disturb the breadth
of surface. Lettering, as may be seen (170,
171), seems just to fill the place. It may be so
simple in its lines and so flat in treatment that it
barely disturbs the breadth of surface ; and yet,
when attention is attracted to it, as in such a
position it must eventually be, the sense of fitness
is not shocked by any inadequacy of detail. In
the same way the cypher O I C (no) just
sufficiently fills a space which it is absolutely
necessary to keep broad, and yet could not well
be left bare. The fact, of course, that an artist
could rely upon the vanity of his patron to
appreciate the introduction of his cypher, did
not make him the less ready to avail himself of
So with the scroll or label, ostensibly designed
always to accommodate inscription, and actually
shaped for its accommodation, we cannot doubt
172. ENGLISH GOTHIC PAVING TILES.
that at times the inscription was first thought of
only as an excuse for the ornamental label : it is
even (157) used at times without the excuse of let-
tering. A case in point is the elaborate design of
H. S. Beham (41). Again, it would probably not
have occurred to the designer to introduce the
royal motto in connection with the cypher at the
end of this chapter (the instinct of the designer is
to make his cypher self-sufficient) had he not felt
the need of the lines of the scroll to help him in the
emergency of combining rather awkward letters.
If, on the one hand, it can seldom be asserted
positively that lettering is introduced for orna-
ment's sake, neither, on the other, can we always
be sure that the most absolutely appropriate
lettering was introduced solely or primarily on
account of what it tells us. It is just as likely
that the letters on the old English encaustic tiles
(172) w r ere thought of as appropriate filling for
the spaces in the band, as that the band was
173. PEW-ENDS FROM A CHURCH IN SOMERSETSHIRE.
I74. PEW-ENDS FROM A CHURCH IN SOMERSETSHIRE.
devised to take them. The mottoes in the
stained glass window illustrated (8) may very well
have been thought of only as a kind of quarry-
pattern. It is more likely that letters were hunted
up to fill the shields in the Gothic stall-ends from
a Somersetshire church (173, 174) than that
the shields were devices provided for given letters.
One or two shields perhaps were wanted to bear
certain emblems ; that suggested other shields, for
which symbolic filling had to be found. Even in
the case of an inscription, such as that on the
background of the embroidered stole (n), it is
quite within possibility that it arose, more out of
the idea of breaking the monotonous surface of the
gold, than out of a desire to impart information.
The problem offered to the artist is, in the one
case, to find words so appropriate, and, in the
other, to reduce them so absolutely to ornament,
that we neither know nor ask how the design
came about, but are content that he has solved
the problem, and, in so doing, given us a thing of
It can hardly be said that the use of lettering
in ornament, whether in the form of plain inscrip-
tion, or of pattern built upon the alphabet, is
sufficiently appreciated by modern designers.
Lettering recommends itself to the designer in
that, when it comes to design and not mere
inscription, he can do with it so nearly as he will.
By nature it asserts itself somewhat ; its lines,
whatever the character, are inclined to distinguish
themselves plainly enough from foliage or scroll-
work, from animal or human form, with which
they may be associated. But there are number-
less ways of keeping it in its place, indeed in the
precise subordination the artist may desire — ways
of distributing the lettering, of shaping its outline,
of treating its surface, of entangling it with orna-
ment — any one or more of which may safely be
Allusion has been made already to the breaking
up of words capriciously, and to colouring the
letters at will (67). They may be made to alter-
nate with ornament, as in the Hispano-Moresque
plate opposite (175), a very usual plan; or it
may be not words but cyphers in themselves
none too intelligible, which alternate with symbolic
ornament. That occurs in the collar of the Saint
175. SPANISH EARTHENWARE DISH PAINTED IN BLUE
Esprit worked into the embroidered cloth of which
a portion is here given (176). The design of the
collar is adapted also to the border of the cloth,
where the larger scale of the design makes it more
easy to appreciate how ingeniously the artist has
combined his steady and even rigid cyphers with
the dancing flames which figure again in the diaper
on the field of the cloth. Similar use is made of
the cypher in a delightfully simple piece of actual
goldsmith's work in the Louvre, in which alternate
links are formed of a cypher D E. The distribution
of the separate letters of a word according to the
artist's fancy is another cunning way of sufficiently
removing it from bald announcement. There is
no possible mistaking the meaning of the letters
studding at precise intervals the velvet binding of
Queen Mary's Prayer-book (139) ; and yet the
word " Regina " does not shout at you.
Even straightforward lettering, following the
plan, for example, of a Greek fret in the French
encaustic tile (177), and making with the sudden
patch in the centre most excellent ornament, would
never thrust its meaning upon one, even were it
upon examination readable, which, in this par-
ticular instance, it can hardly claim to be ; nor yet
the inscription upon the English tile pattern (14).
If it was the intention of the artist to announce
something in his design, the tidings reach but few ;
if it was ornament he meant, there is no mistake
The disguise of lettering in the form of mono-
grams and cyphers has been alluded to already.
One looks upon the cyphers tooled upon le Gascon's
book cover (111) less as lettering than as diaper.
Even the crowned L sprinkled over the bindings
*»»?>♦- it nu'V
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iHtlfV'V 1 'iUi'.Vniiit'm
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■ T? -
iVlVt >> Viii'ii
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'( l \ , M II SI lit I »'»'» Y ( ^ > '*.♦>,* '/J
♦"> Y »"-. u tVt'Ht ftin »'.» i"m> > i rYfWfYY-t r r.t.f/ ;.*.' i
f t n't mi') u 1 i'ViYm *' * ' ' >.*.? ff'luVtfil iyi »Y> H t
rOtfYj »'lV''< ' » V * V-Y V<> » /'; 'YlYlY V \ i ■ .♦ * * s
176. EMBROIDERY AT THE HOTEL CLUNY.
for Louis XIII. asserts itself less emphatically
than it would if it occurred singly, and were not
used as an ornamental repeat.
The form of lettering can, it is evident, be easily
modified to the degree at which it is quite unin-
177. OLD FRENCH PAVING TILE.
telligible ; the main difficulty of the designer is in
making ornamental letters which shall not be
enigmatical. The foliation of the letter-shape is
itself enough to transform it absolutely. But
departure from the normal shape should be in the
direction of beauty. That is hardly the case in
the bL.ck letter which grows out into truncated
178. FROM THE BACK OF AN OLD GERMAN WOODEN SEAT.
branches in the words "Jesus" and "Maria"
(178, 179), a rustic notion which crops up con-
tinually in late German Gothic, but it is never
It is seldom very desirable to break the surface of
lettering with enrichment, unless indeed the idea
is to merge it in ornament, to devise a mystery of
richest scrollery out of which, as you dwell upon
it, the words grow gradually into significance.
Van Meckenen did that perfectly in the scroll-
work which (66), as at last it dawns upon you,
spells his name. He designed also some very
elaborate initials (141), in which both the
thickness of the letters and the background
I79. FROM THE BACK OF AN OLD GERMAN WOODEN SEAT.
enclosed by them is overrun with florid foliage,
growing in some cases through from letter to
background ; but so compact is the ornament, so
closely does it accommodate itself to the spaces of
one or the other, that, though there is only a
narrow line of demarcation between the two, the
shape of the letters is quite clearly enough
defined. They are a
triumph of florid orna-
Another case in which
the surface of lettering
is more or less orna-
mentally treated occurs
in ribbon letters, and
in black letter designed
somewhat after the
fashion of strapwork,
turning over at the ends.
The more simply this is
rendered, the better as a rule it is, but the turn-
over is not always so conscientiously designed as
it might be. Something of the kind occurs also
in Icelandic lettering (71) ; but the rendering of
the turnover is there more abstract. An equally
abstract and singularly happy treatment occurs
in the Arab rendering of Gothic letters (44).
In the jewel by Holbein (15), what would in
the case of solid gold letters have been obtrusive-
ness, is skilfully avoided by fretting out great part
l80. DEVICE OF A n AND
A CROSS EMBROIDERED IN
COUCHED GOLD THREAD.
l8l. OLD PAINTED ROOF DECORATION, NORFOLK.
cf the body of the letters, not representing them
in outline, but leaving just enough of the metal to
give shapes not immediately suggestive of letters.
In the gold couching on page 206, the A and O
are cunningly interwoven with the cross. A
l82. FLINT INLAY FROM A CHURCH IN NORFOLK.
severer use of monogram and cypher, in a way
which yet does not call undue attention to them,
is shown in the painting upon the roof of Sell
A monogram from another old Norfolk church
(182) shows how the form may be quieted by the
way it is executed. The ground of the building
stone is cut away and broken flints are inlaid. But
though the cement jointing makes a sort of outline
• 183. WOOD-CARVING FROM AN" OLD SCOTTISH CASKET.
between the black and the white, it is not con-
tinuous; and where there is no background of
flint it is left to the eye to make it good.
The confusion of lettering with a background
of ornament is easily effected. It is curious how
absolutely the crowned letters are kept quiet by
the strapwork and floral emblems associated
with them in the carving of the pear-tree casket
illustrated (183). So, too, in the sampler of
outwork (184) the letters lose themselves in the
geometric pattern-stitching in which they are set ;
and yet, notwithstanding the square lines of both,
the natural result of drawing the threads, how
plainly they detach themselves from it when you
look at the work !
It is a common Oriental practice, as in the
mirror-back illustrated (74), to involve letters
in ornament which, by its comparatively equal
weight, prevents them from asserting themselves,
whilst at the same time its broken outline and
modelled surface prevent confusion with the
sweeping lines and flat face of the inscription.
In like manner the ornament behind the texts in
the plaster-work of the Alhambra is fretted all
over with pattern so that it may not compete
on equal terms with it. Elsewhere, as in old
Damascus tiles, colour fulfils much the same
function as carving. White letters are prevented
from standing out stark on a rich blue ground by
patterning it over with ornament in paler blue.
Much the same thing is seen in sixteenth century
initial letters (152, 153, 154), where the white
pattern on the ground, according to its strength
and weight, just greys the ground, or helps, if need
be, to restore the balance of the composition. It
will be seen (185) that the hard effect of flat,
sharp-cut letters may be greatly softened by a
mere filigree of fine, close, evenly distributed
ornament upon the ground, which by its very
busy-ness dazzles the sight and so seems to
blur their outlines.
Countless other ways of bringing lettering into
focus in design will suggest themselves to the
artist. It would be impossible to enumerate them
all ; and there is no need to do so ; for they are
devices not in the least degree peculiar to
lettering, but in general use among artists for the
purpose of subordinating one feature in ornament
to another. Indeed, very much of what is here
said applies, not exclusively to lettering in orna-
ment, but to the ornamental treatment of all
manner of arbitrary forms. It is one of the
difficulties besetting the discussion of any side
issue of ornament, that it is practically impossible
to refrain from wandering continually off into the
broader question of design, taste, art in short —
so true it is that art is one. In theory. In prac-
tice the arts are many ; and what is called general
training in art is at most bare preparation for the
pursuit of the least among them.
Hence the occasion, or at all events the excuse,
for books dealing in detail, as this does, with quite
a subsidiary branch of ornamental design. They
will not teach the artist his trade, nor save him
ii in =n
"i *" "' c
m *»* "» *** "' «" »" »»» c
the labour of design ; but they may at least
prevent his going far astray ; and even the
theories he is least prepared to accept may start
him on some not unprofitable train of thought
upon which, but for timely provocation, it would
never have occurred to him to embark.
It is in that hope that the present book is
written ; not with any desire to impose the con-
victions of the writer upon others, but with the
belief that the plain statement of what may be
no more than the personal opinions of a worker
of many years' experience will be helpful to
l86. DEVICE OF LABEL, CROWN
to labels 82
Added ornament . . . . 161
Animals 156, 182
Arab lettering .. 101, 102, 104
Balance .. ..120,126,212
Bands of inscription 58, 60,
Beham (Hans Sebald) 86, 197
Black on black . . 176, 177
Black letter . . 51, 53, 54, 68,
Brasses 55, 80
Breaking up inscriptions 86
Broken background . . 175
Caligraphy 30, 31, 32, 168
Carpet 86, 88
Cartouche . . . . 125, 196
Chinese character . . 106
Circular discs . . . . 70
Coins . . . . 71, 72, 80, 150
Colouring (variety of) . . 92,
96, 140, 168
Combination of letters . . 124
,, of types . . 62
Confusion . . 136, 137, 209,
Conjoined letters 107 etseq.
Craft (its influence on
design) . . . . in, 112, 146
Crown (Visigothic). . .. 98
Cufic character . . 103, 106
Cuneiform lettering . . 54
Cursive writing . . . . 130
Cut letters 50
Cyphers . . 94, 99, 129 et seq.,
196, 202, 208
Dark on light . . . . 52
Decorative lettering. . 57
Decorative value of let-
tering i, 6, 7, 8
Die-sunk letters . . . . 150
Distribution .. 20,21,23,
Double column . . . . 24
outline . . . . i77
Drapery 58, 65
Durer 38, 186
Embroidery 80, 96, 201, 208
Figures 160, 182
Foliated letters . . 158, 160
Framing pictures with
lettering 188, 190
Gereon (Mathias) . . . . 190
Germans 86, 96
Godfrey (Master) . . . . 60
Gothic characters 42, 52,
104, 119, 142, 157
Greek 54, 150
Greeks . . . . 71, 72, 74
Grounding-out 50, 51, 54,
GUBBIO PLAQUES . . . . 82
Hidden meanings 90 et seq.
Holbein .. ..120,182,186
Horizontal bands. . .. 76
line .. 57, 65
Illuminators .. 156, 168,169
Independent ornament 125
Influence of technique
on lettering 49
Initials 79, 94, 157, 165 et seq.
,, (ornamental) .. 171
(pictorial) 181 el seq.
tal) 40^/ seq.
Interlacing .. 94,95,116,
118, 129, 137, 159
Italics . . . . 89, 137, 161
Labels .. . . 75 el seq., 197
Larisch (Herr von) . . 36
Legibility 18, 19, 28, 41, 82,
90, no, 127, 145, 168, 182
Lf. Gascon 202
Le Puy . . 34, 54, 60, 108
Lettering plus picture 9, 10,
Liberties.. 92, 96, 108, 171
Light on dark. . .. 52,178
lombardic capitals . . 120,
London (Victoria and Al-
bert Museum) 62, 86, 87, 99
Manuscript . . 29, 96, 157
Margins . . . . 23, 24, 170
Material (its influence on
design) in, 112, 146 et seq.
Meckenen . . 95, 160, 205
Medals .. ..71,72,73,80
Millet (J. F.) 2
Minuscules .. 140, 141, 165
Mock lettering . . 2, 66, 68
Modelled letters . . 50
Modesty 6, 11
Modification of letter-
shapes . . 32, 36, 145, 155,
tions 40 et seq.
Morris YVm 8, 19
Mystery .. .. 91,99,136
Xeskhi character.. 103, 106
newspaper headings . . 26
Oriental lettering . . 101
Ornamental initials . . 171
Ornamental lettering 49,
50, 145 et seq.
Page (The) 1, 18 et seq., 29 et
Paris (Cluny Museum . . 96
Penmanship 30, 31, 151, 158
Penmanship versus print-
IN ' G 33-34
Pictorial initials. .181 et seq.
Picture and design .. 184
Pottery 66, 152
Printed book 1,2
Printers' initials . . 172
Repeated ornament let-
ters in) 79
Reversible designs . . 11S,
131. 133. i35
Ribbon letters . . . . 49
Ribbons 75 et seq.
Roman characters 42, 52,
54, 104, 119, 120, 130, 188,
Scribe 29, 30,
1. 157. 159,
Scrolls . . 62
75 et seq., 81,
. . . . 94
. . . . 81
46, 47. 48
40, 41, -12
. . . iSS
• 73- 94
35' 36, 74
Spacing . . 34,
41. 42, 52
Spontaneity . .
• 33, 39
Stained glass. .
. .. 76
Stevenson R. L.i
• •• 3. 4
Stone 51, 153 Toledo
Sunken letters . . 52, 54 Tombstones
Surface breaking.. 6,8,63, Treatment
Sykes (Godfrey) .. .. 187 Type .. 1,
Symbolism 13, 14, 126, 144
Symmetry. . 120, 121, 125, 130,
Tapestry 62, 78
Tint of ornament. .172, 173,
Title page 25 Wood
. . . . 70
• • 55
15. IJ 7. 125
112, 113, 158
Vertical lines . . . . 63
VlSIGOTHIC CROWN . . . . 98
BKADBUKY, AGNEW, & CO. LP., PK1NTEKS, LONDON AND TONBRIDGE.